After the U.S. House extended tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency Wednesday, environmental advocates and renewable energy businesses are hoping to make them stick.
“The Senate needs to act now to ensure a clean energy future,” said Chloe Coffman, campaign organizer with PennEnvironment.
A resolution sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan created a short-term extension for dozens of tax incentives, including tax credits for biofuels, wind and other renewable energy sources and energy efficiency that expired at the end of 2013. U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-17, Moosic, voted for the resolution.
It extended these credits through the end of 2014, except for energy-efficient commercial buildings, which will extend through 2015. They would apply retroactively for projects begun over the past year.
The measure now heads to the Senate, which has until the next session of Congress takes over Jan. 3.
“We have one chance in the Senate to give wind power the support it deserves,” Ms. Coffman said.
A PennEnvironment report found wind power increased 24-fold across the U.S. from 2001 to 2013, now generating more than 4 percent of the country’s electricity.
One difficulty of wind energy is its relatively low energy capacity compared to fossil fuels. Northeast Pennsylvania’s three wind farms combined have a capacity of roughly 230 megawatts, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while a single new natural gas-fired power plant might have a capacity of around 1,000 megawatts.
Still, generating electricity from wind produces zero greenhouse gas emissions. PennEnvironment predicts the U.S. could cut its carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to 40 percent below 2005 levels if it generates 30 percent of its energy from wind.
On Wednesday, Ms. Coffman invited Lackawanna River Corridor Association Director Bernie McGurl, University of Scranton Sustainability Director Mark Murphy and Dunmore-based Commonwealth Energy Group LLC CEO Louis Evans to speak in support of the tax credits.
Mr. Evans’ firm provides energy efficiency and renewable energy services to local businesses. He said the tax credits passed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 were crucial for guaranteeing the quick returns-on-investment his clients sought.
When they disappeared at the end of 2013, interest waned, he said.
“We definitely saw our business drop because of that,” he said.
While the resolution could help his current clients, he wasn’t able to use the credits as a selling point this year, nor will he be able to in the future unless Congress continues them, he said.
For Mr. McGurl and Mr. Murphy, these credits support a moral imperative — stopping climate change and creating a sustainable society.
“I’m here because I believe we have to stop burning hydrocarbons,” Mr. McGurl said, citing fossil fuels’ influence on climate change.
Mr. Murphy is an electrical engineer who has worked hard to reduce the university’s energy appetite — for example, by switching to LEDs to light the university’s Christmas tree, cutting electrical use from 49,000 watts to 350 watts.
One value the university works to instill in its students is “caring for Creation,” Mr. Murphy said, which means learning to live sustainably, even though present generations may never live to see the benefit of doing so.