The U.S. Senate passed the $838 billion economic stimulus package Tuesday, setting the stage of negotiations with the House to come up with a final version for President Obama to sign.

The Senate voted 61–37 to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The legislation includes $2 billion in grants for manufacturing advanced battery systems and other components for cars; $4.5 billion for upgrading regional transmission networks and training workers for jobs in the power-delivery industry and; $4.2 billion for energy efficiency and conservation block grants; and $4.6 billion for developing cleaner power plants run on fossil fuels.

The bill also includes a 30 percent tax credit for companies making equipment for buildingsolar wind and other renewable energy power plants. It also includes a credit for converting regular hybrid-electric cars to plug-in hybrids and buying plug-in hybrid rides. Consumers also will be able to deduct from their income taxes interests from auto loans and local sales taxes.

The Senate's version differs from the House version passed two weeks ago.

The House bill doesn't include the 30 percent manufacturing tax credit, but does allow for solar power developers to convert a 30 percent investment tax credit into direct payments to investors for the next two years. The Senate version doesn't have the direct-payment provision.

Solar energy advocates say direct payments are better incentives because the tax credit mostly appeals to investors, such as banks, that are no longer loan money to project developers (see Tax Credit for Solar in the Works). 

The Senate bill also has reduced to $7 billion the amount marked for loans for renewable power generation projects, said Chris O'Brien, head of North American marketing for Oerlikon Solar. The House had set aside $8 billion for those loans. He's hoping to see the larger amount remain in a final version of the bill.

The Senate and the House will begin reconciling their differences to come up with a version that can be delivered to Obama for his signature (see a highlight showing the difference between the Senate and House version of the bill). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wants to send the final bill to Obama by Monday.

Besides spending on renewable energy, both the Senate and House versions contain a slew of other measures for healthcare, education and other types of technologies.

Writer Jeff St. John contributed to this report.


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