Cantwell, Murray Add Renewable Energy Program to Tax Package at Last Minute

While Sen. Maria Cantwell wasn't able to add the Build America bond program into the Obama tax deal (a stimulus-style infrastructure program she pushed for last week), she was able to add another thing to the package: a renewable energy program known as the 1603 Treasury Grant Program.

The program, enacted as part of the stimulus in 2009, makes direct payments to people who develop renewable energy projects as a stop gap measure to replace tax incentive programs for energy investors during a recession. (The tax credit model doesn't work in down times because investors aren't ponying up.)

Sen. Cantwell (along with Sen. Patty Murray) pushed to add the program, signing a Dec. 9 letter—after Obama had already closed ranks on his deal, frowning on any additions—which stated:

We are writing to express that we will have difficulty supporting tax legislation currently being drafted for Senate consideration that fails to include an extension of the Treasury Grant Program (TGP). The Treasury Grant Program allows renewable energy developers to claim tax incentives directly. It is rightly credited with maintaining grwoth in the renewable energy sector in the midst of an economic downturn. If Congress allows taxes to rise on renewable development, momentum would be lost and the growth of renewable energy would be jeopardized.

As of February 2010, the clean energy program had spent about $2.6 billion on 303 solar projects, 47 wind projects, and 44 other alternative energy projects, creating more than 10,000 jobs. (The current spend is estimated at $5.37 billion leveraging $12.7 billion in private investment.)

Sen. Cantwell, who refers to the alt energy industry as "the mother of all markets," wants the U.S. to be a leader in the industry, but believes the feds need to push it.