Anticipating the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has released a series of policy priorities to guide the coming decade.
Three guiding principles — clean energy targets, infrastructure and open markets — guide specific objectives outlined in the document. Current priorities for SEIA include the elimination of tariffs on solar cells and modules, the extension of solar tax credits and the appointment of new commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper.
While ambitions like a national clean energy standard or carbon legislation may be off the table if Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate, Hopper said SEIA is optimistic about the prospects for bipartisan support of solar industry incentives in a COVID-19 stimulus package.
With Biden set to assume office in January pending certification of the election results, SEIA and other solar advocates have begun to hash out their plans for the next four years, including actions they hope to see in early 2021.
SEIA's agenda would have Biden issue an executive order to eliminate the Section 201 tariffs on solar cells and modules, establish a national climate czar, extend solar tax credits for at least five years and implement standalone credits for storage. Hopper said she also hopes to see the appointment of FERC commissioners who “respect state autonomy” and support market competition, and investment in domestic manufacturing.
SEIA also maintains hope that Congress will come through with a stimulus package, and that the result will include incentives for solar development.
“I think you will find bipartisan support for solar because we have business owners … talking to their representatives about the impact to business,” Hopper said, adding that the size of the stimulus will likely determine whether incentives for the solar industry make the final cut.
Overall, Hopper said, SEIA has set goals for solar to comprise 20% of U.S. electrical generation by 2030 — a goal she said would create 600,000 new jobs and offset electric sector emissions by 35%.
J. R. Tolbert, managing director of Advanced Energy Economy, said he sees paths by which the solar industry could achieve its goals for rapid growth under the Biden administration, even if potential friction in the Senate requires a more pragmatic policy approach.
“There are a bunch of things that can happen,” he said. “I think there are things that can happen legislatively, and utilizing the president's executive authority and the current role of legislative agencies to make sure that solar has an enormous role to play as we moved toward a clean energy future.”
Tolbert agreed with SEIA about the importance of FERC appointments to improve transmission planning and ensure that solar gets a fair shake on U.S. energy markets. FERC could even play a role in the implementation of carbon pricing, he said.
Many other seemingly small policy measures could have substantial impact on the industry, Tolbert said — for example, establishing direct pay tax incentives for solar projects that have started or will begin in the next few years as a means of COVID-19 recovery.
Stimulus funds dedicated to the solar industry would be a good investment on the part of the federal government because solar projects are fast to market, labor intensive and put people back to work quickly, Tolbert said.
“There is an industry that is poised to lead our economic recovery,” he said, “and that's the clean energy industry.”