Federal solar energy subsidies are attracting foreign companies to cash in on the U.S. renewable energy market, while churches and other places of worship are losing out, according to the industry's top lobbyist.
Chris Mansour, federal affairs vice president for the Solar Energy Industry Association, representing rooftop solar companies, addressed Christian activists and young conservatives Thursday during a day-long conservative clean energy summit in Washington.
He thanked young conservative voters and key lawmakers for supporting a five-year extension of a federal incentive for solar that provides companies with a tax credit for each rooftop array they install, which is a big boost for attracting companies to invest.
Nearly a year after the credits were passed in a major end-of-year spending bill, Mansour said one of biggest results is foreign companies coming to invest in the U.S. because of the certainty they get from the incentives.
"This is an investment not only by American companies, but there are also a lot of foreign companies coming into the United States to invest in solar because we have this nice long ramp for the investment tax credit," Mansour told summit attendees.
He didn't name the foreign companies flocking to America for their share of the tax credits, but it's safe to say that the U.S. has had a difficult relationship with some countries over solar, namely China. U.S. solar companies have waged a number of battles over illegal solar panel dumping that has harmed American firms.
Just recently, the U.S. won a long battle with India at the World Trade Organization over practices to make U.S. solar panels less competitive when sold in the South Asian nation.
At the same time, churches and places of worship in the U.S., which represent a growing niche for rooftop solar, are finding it tough to take advantage of the subsidies because of their tax-exempt status.
"We're working to try to find ways [to help] churches and nonprofits, because obviously a church cannot take an investment tax cut," Mansour said. He said the solar industry is working to find a way places of worship can take advantage of the federal program and "reduce costs for them as well."
One of the groups hosting the summit is the Christian Coalition of America, which works to mobilize Christians on pro-family issues. Mansour noted that the group and the group Young Conservatives for Energy Reform were instrumental in driving home the need for the incentives in last year's spending bill.
He noted that the investment tax credit for solar doesn't expire until the end of this year. "So, we actually got the extension in advance," which he said is a rare event in Washington.
He said the main "selling point" for getting Republicans to vote for the extension was jobs. The industry employs about 200,000 people, and by 2020 will double that to an estimated 420,000, he said.
The amount of solar on the grid currently represents 31 gigawatts. "We are going to triple that" by 2020 to 98 GW, he said, which is drawing companies from all over the world to the U.S.
One gigawatt of power can provide enough electricity to power about 700,000 homes.