[pagebreak:Solar Roundup: Another Tax-Credit Proposal, Big Deals for Solar-Thermal and Thin-Film] Two U.S. senators, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and John Ensign, R-Nev., are preparing to introduce a new renewable-energy tax-credit proposal within a week, Solar Energy Industries Association spokesperson Monique Hanis told Greentech Media on Tuesday. 

The bill would be a new take on a multiyear extension of tax credits set to expire at the end of this year (see Solar Sharpens Weapons for Incentive Battle and Solar Industry’s Five-Step Plan).

The news comes more than a month after the U.S. House of Representatives passed yet another energy bill, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Act of 2008, attempting to secure renewable-energy tax credits. The Senate previously had voted down a similar bill in February (see Renewable Tax Incentive Still At Risk and Senate Rejects Green Incentives to Pass Energy Bill).

Details aren’t yet available, but industry insiders are sure to wonder whether the new proposal will be different enough to get Senate approval, but strong enough to boost the solar industry. The differences between the new Senate bill and the House-passed bill also will have to be reconciled to get approval from both houses.

As representatives and lobbyists on Capital Hill work to develop solar policy, the U.S. solar industry hasn’t been sitting still.

BrightSource scored big with an announcement Tuesday that it had inked deals with the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to provide up to 900 megawatts of solar-thermal power (see VentureBeat and Earth2Tech posts). According to the companies, the first plant, a 100-megawatt solar-thermal plant in Ivanpah, Calif., could open as soon as  2011.

Two other projects, with details undisclosed, will bring the total capacity to 500 megawatts. The utility has options for an additional two plants, which would bring the total to an unheard-of 900 megawatts -- by far the largest solar-thermal deal yet.

Even without those deals included, a report from the Prometheus Institute and Greentech Media released Tuesday said more than $30 billion worth of plants have been announced in just the last six month (see Concentrating Solar to Reach 18 Gigawatts by 2020).

Solar-thermal is just one approach that utilities are using for large solar installations. Some utilities in Europe have turned to large fields of standard solar panels instead, while Southern California Edison announced last week it would spend $875 million to install 250 megawatts of solar power on commercial buildings in the state’s Inland Empire -- a new model for utilities, considering that rooftop installations usually are intended to supply power to their buildings, rather than mainly to the grid. 

Meanwhile, EDF Energies Nouvelles said Tuesday it has invested $50 million in thin-film startup Nanosolar. The company, which announced it had begun production in December, will use the money to expand production more quickly, according to the press release.

EDF also has agreed to buy some of Nanosolar’s copper-indium-gallium-diselenide films. The wind and solar utility didn’t say how many cells it would purchase or how much it would pay, only saying it will "gain access from 2009 onwards to part of Nanosolar’s production of solar panels."

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And MMA Renewable Ventures announced Tuesday it has signed a deal to finance 14 solar-power projects at Macy’s stores. SunPower (NSDQ: SPWR) will supply the panels and install them.

MMA Renewable Ventures said it has more than $100 million worth of energy-efficiency projects and 100 megawatts of renewable-energy projects on the way. The company said it financed a total of 20 megawatts of new renewable-energy projects last year and ended the year with about 34 megawatts of solar projects under operation and development, at least five times more than what it had in 2006. 

And Open Energy Corp., which finances residential solar projects, on Monday announced its first agreement. The deal with Jon DeWald & Associates calls for Open Energy to finance and install 1.2-kilowatt solar-power systems on 47 town homes in Encinitas, Calif.

The news from MMA and Open Energy highlights the growth of the power-purchase agreement model, which finances solar-power projects by paying the upfront cost -- and selling the tax credits for the projects -- in exchange for an agreement that customers buy the resulting power.

In March, a Greentech Media report forecast that such agreements would account for three-quarters of U.S. commercial and industrial solar sales this year and next (see Power-Purchase Agreements to Spike). But later that month, AltaTerra partner Jon Guice, who co-authored the report, said the forecast would dive if renewable-energy tax credits aren’t extended (see Power-Purchase Agreements Could Lose Market Share).  

Hanis said all this news represents a "culminating effect" in the industry.

"There’s been a lot going on in the industry, and you’re seeing the culmination of many things that have been in the works for the last couple of years -- [state] renewable portfolio standards, companies and utilities wanting to diversity and guarantee their energy sources, public demand and energy prices," she said. "There also is pressure for some of these projects to get going while there is still [a federal tax credit], although everyone’s hoping for an extension."

Getting the tax credits renewed is key to continuing this rate of progress -- and news flow -- in the U.S. market, she said.