This article written by Chad Farrell was originally published in Vermont Business Magazine.
In Vermont and across the country, many businesses, institutions and communities are recognizing the benefits that the sun can have on their bottom lines. In fact, our company Encore Renewable Energy, which specializes in the origination, development, financing and construction of community scale solar energy generation projects, has worked with dozens of businesses, schools, hospitals, utilities and municipalities across our state to give them an energy solution that is affordable, reliable, and good for the environment.
Helping us do this over the past number of years is a bipartisan program passed by Congress in 2005, called the solar investment tax credit (ITC), which provides private sector businesses an incentive to make investments in solar energy and levels the playing field against other older, more entrenched and long subsidized forms of energy generation.
As a result of the ITC, as well as the progressive thinking of Vermont’s legislative leaders, utilities, and entrepreneurial community, Vermont currently ranks second in the nation in the number of solar jobs per capita according to the recent Solar Census from the Solar Foundation.
And that doesn’t include all of the other beneficial economic activity that a healthy solar market provides, from the various legal, technical and engineering professionals who support the design and development of these assets to the hardworking folks out there in the field building them. In fact, renewable energy is one of the fastest growing sectors of Vermont’s economy, currently employing one in every 16 Vermonters.
I am proud to say that over the past several years our team has completed more than 70 complex projects, repurposing undervalued real estate like brownfields, landfills, rooftops and underutilized farmland for community scale solar PV generation. We have harnessed nearly $100 million of capital investment to create sustainable energy projects as well as a significant number of new jobs and positive environmental benefits, such as avoiding the combustion of nearly 130 million pounds of coal and powering the equivalent of 24,000 average Vermont homes with renewable energy. This progress simply would not have been possible without the federal investment tax credit.
Vermont state policies have created a diverse and competitive solar market, serving as a pioneering example for our surrounding states who are just now embarking on efforts to decarbonize their electrical supply systems while at the same time making them more resilient and reliable. In addition to the projects we have already delivered, we’re currently working on the development of more than 40 megawatts of cost competitive solar generation projects in Vermont, in many cases coupled with reliable energy storage facilities for resiliency purposes, in response to Vermonters’ desire for additional sources of locally generated renewable energy.
Solar energy is an American success story. There are now more than 2 million solar installations in the US, and solar installer is ranked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as one of the fastest growing jobs in the country. Since 2006, the ITC has enjoyed broad bipartisan support while creating more than 250,000 jobs and $140 billion in private investment in the United States.
Unfortunately, this continued progress, and the economic growth it brings to Vermont, is in jeopardy as Congress considers allowing the ITC to phase down. This will, in effect, raise energy bills, increase the costs of doing business, slow down efforts to address the worst effects of climate change and eliminate high-paying, skilled jobs. At risk are tens of thousands of jobs in the United States that can’t be outsourced.
Over the past decade and a half, the ITC has helped put solar on a level playing field against polluting yet continually subsidized fossil fuels. The policy drives more efficient, lower cost solar installations and innovative business models employing hundreds of thousands of Americans. Still, despite continued growth in recent years, solar energy still accounts for only 2.3% of total U.S. electric generation and about 4% of Vermont’s electric supply.
We know that public policy changes can have a big effect on the solar market. Tariffs and other recent changes in federal policy resulted in at least $8 billion of cancelled or deferred investments and the loss of over 9,000 jobs nationally. Getting rid of the ITC will only add to this negative impact at a time when we should be adding jobs in advance of what may be a softening economy while at the same time doubling down on our response to the growing climate crisis, which many argue we have less than 10 years to address before runaway feedback loops begin that cannot be undone.
We simply cannot afford to stop our momentum now. There are important jobs in our communities, tremendous opportunities for benefit from renewable energy resources with zero future fuel cost risk, and lower energy costs for Vermonters on the line. Over the 10 years that we have been developing and constructing solar projects in Vermont and beyond, we have seen the positive effects of strong public policy in support of clean energy development in terms of investment opportunity, job creation and resiliency for our energy grid.
Now is no time for pumping the brakes.
The GREEN Act was recently introduced by the Ways and Means Committee in the US House of Representatives. The bill seeks to extend the ITC for solar along with other renewable energy incentives to continue to level the playing field with long subsidized forms of fossil fuel based energy resources. We stand with our peers in the solar community in advocating for Congress to pass this bill before the end of the year.
We thank Congressman Welch and Senators Leahy and Sanders for their long-term support of the solar investment tax credit and for understanding not only the moral imperative but also the economic opportunity associated with an aggressive response to the climate crisis. Their leadership supports solar jobs, fosters economic growth and protects the public health of our citizens.