Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi are considering cutting the proposed tax credit for renewables -- as well as a standard that would require electric utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources -- from the national energy bill, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
An informal congressional committee is working to reconcile the vastly different energy bills passed by the House and the Senate as the two Democratic leaders attempt to get an energy bill approved before Thanksgiving.
The solar association said Friday that staff with the committee indicated the tax credit and national renewable portfolio standard could be taken off the table as Pelosi and Reid try to make the bill acceptable to representatives who oppose it -- not to mention to the president, who has threatened a veto.
Stricter fuel economy standards for vehicles also might be endangered as Reps. Barron Hill, D-Ind., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., sent a letter Friday saying they wouldn't support such standards (see this Detroit News story).
The greentech community has responded with surprise and strong concern.
The idea of removing the tax credit and portfolio standard "is completely contradictory to what the leadership is saying, that they want to develop clean renewable sources in the U.S.," said Monique Hanis, a spokesperson for the solar association, who last week said she was "confident" the tax credit would be included in the bill.
"It's contradictory to what Sen. Reid even has on his Web site. Everyone was pretty surprised. This has gotten quite a reaction."
Jonathan Bonanno, chairman of the Keiretsu Forum's cleantech investing committee, sent out a "red alert" email today asking "all conscious humans" to call Reid and Pelosi in support of the tax credit and portfolio standard.
"If we do not speak up right now and voice our support for an energy bill with both the RPS and tax provisions for renewables," he wrote, "we could have a massive market stall in progress towards a carbon-free and reliable energy grid, reduced reliance on fossil fuel natural resources, increased … security/independence and cleaner water and air."
Investors also reacted to the news.
Evergreen Solar (NSDQ: ESLR) shares dropped 11.84 percent to $14.08 per share Friday, SunPower Corp. (NSDQ: SPWR) shares fell 9.4 percent to $128.66 per share and Suntech Power fell 5.6 percent to $61.55 per share.
The WilderHill Clean Energy Index, which tracks U.S. clean-energy stocks, dropped 5.19 percent Friday to 252.09.
Hanis said the solar association is disappointed Reid and Pelosi would take the renewable tax credit and portfolio standard off the table and hopes they will reconsider in light of the reaction from the community.
If the credits aren't included in the energy bill, another bill proposing to extend the credits might keep it going for another year, she said.
But the credits in the energy bill would have given the industry more security, key to raising financing for projects that can take years to bring investment returns.
"We have learned from Japan that it takes several years to pull up an infrastructure," said Roger Efird, president of Suntech America, in a conference call in support of the credits on Nov. 1. "Using Europe as an example, it can take 10 to 20 years."
He said the solar industry still would survive in the United States if the credits expired, but would represent a smaller opportunity.
"There are several states that have good programs and [will] allow us to run a small, but profitable, business in the U.S. So we're not going to die," said Efird, who said 80 percent of Suntech's revenue comes from Europe. "But it will be extremely disappointing because solar has such an opportunity to reduce this nation's carbon footprint and it won't give that opportunity if we have to continue to rely on just a few states."
Hanis said the solar industry is seeing tremendous growth of about 50 percent this year as a result of the tax credit that was put in place in 2005. If the credit is cut out of the U.S. bill, the solar industry will continue to grow -- but mostly in other parts of the world, she said.
"Companies looking to develop plans in the U.S. will probably choose to do it overseas [if the credit is cut]," she said. "The effect in the U.S. would be to lose leadership, in terms of technology, competitiveness and jobs."
-- Reporter Rachel Barron contributed to this story.