Tax laws are causing a solar installation frenzy, trying to beat end of 2008 tax credit expiration

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M.Barkley at

At the end of this year, an elevated tax credit for for alternative energy projects is set to expire. These federal tax credits will decline from 30% of the total construction cost to just 10%, and several alternative energy groups have been lobbying Congress to extend the benefit. Even though some states and local power companies offer additional incentives to invest in alternative energy, the reduced Federal tax credits will have wide ranging effects. Industry experts and analysts expect companies who sell solar, wind, biogas, microturbine, and fuel cell technologies could be wiped out by reduced tax credits:

Without the credits, “I’ll essentially be out of business,” Tamas said. “Solar will be dead, other than for a little bit of residential.”

Congress was expected to renew these popular tax credits, but the Senate and House have gone into recess without doing so. Since many of these projects require months and months of construction time, there could be a lag in construction even if the credits are renewed in September. In the near term, the uncertainty is creating a solar building boom.

Many big retailers are attempting to complete green energy projects before the tax credits expire on December 31st. Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Whole Foods, Safeway, REI, and BJ’s Wholesale club are just a few major companies that are accelerating their solar installation plans to beat the deadline. This means that solar workers are pulling overtime and likely to see big bonuses this year, but they may be getting pink slips in the spring.

Photo courtesy of
EGL Energy at

US Bureau of Land Management Reverses Anti-Solar decision

A few months back the US Bureau of Land Management announced a two year halt to granting permits for solar farm development on federal lands.  The bureau had expressed concern about the possible unknown effects of large footprint solar farms on wildlife in undeveloped areas. 

As an environmentally aware individual, I can certainly appreciate that a little caution is warranted. But the effects of high pollution methods of generating electrical power are far from unknown.  We are in a crisis situation where we need to be exploring every reasonable option. 

The Bureau of Land Management administers more than 250 million acres of land in the US, much of it is perfect for solar farms and wind farms.  We are not talking about carving up Yellowstone, or drilling for oil in pristine tundra.  There is a lot of land in more desolate areas that solar and wind farms can be installed without adversely effecting the natural ecosystem anywhere near the impact of the current dirty methods of power generation.

In response the public reaction tothe moratorium on solar the BLM has reversed it decision and will once again be accepting applications.  The BLM will still be closely monitoring the environmental impact of the new sites. 

In a press release here

“The BLM has a longstanding commitment to advancing renewable energy development,” added Caswell. In 2005 the BLM completed a PEIS for wind energy development on public lands and recently published for public comment a Draft PEIS on geothermal energy development. These efforts and the current solar energy initiative will facilitate opportunities for renewable energy development on the public lands.

Virginia school district switches school buses to biodiesel

School Buses are nearly a perfect fit for biodiesel. They travel local, well planed short routes so they can always be refueled from a biodiesel facility so that the driver doesn’t have to settle for fossil fuels in a crunch.

A couple of years back Gloucester Co. started a trial in which 20 of its school buses would be run off of biodiesel. Now, according to this article at WVEC every single school bus is run off of bio fuels made locally.

Roger Kelly, head of transportation for the district says that even the drivers are noticing a difference, although the accountants are not. Fuel cost is nearly the same for both biodiesel and regular but money is not always the most important thing.

“It’s hard to put a price on cleanness,” he said. “We’re definitely saving on better health for kids growing up,” said Kelly. “Buses going up and down the road that are putting out less emissions. So, there’s a dollar amount there.”

The drivers are noticing that the buses run better on biodiesel (something I have noticed in my own car) and because biodiesel lubricates better and cleans out fuel lines and tanks that buses will last longer possibly providing a financial benefit in that area.

Other area school districts are consulting with Gloucester about making the switch to biodiesel as well.

Diesel from waste plastics in Nova Scotia

Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company Limited is a Canadian company started in 1937 to produce ground wood pulp, adding paperboard in 1946. Today they make 100 percent recycled paperboard products with power generated from their own hydro power plant. It’s estimated that their plant saves over 10 million cubic feet of landfill space a year. So what better recipient of a government program to produce diesel from recycled plastics?

On April 2, 2008 Premier Rodney MacDonald announced that the Canadian province would be investing up to 20 million in Minas Basin’s new green programs.

“We are committed to investing in innovative and resourceful companies that contribute to job growth, a green environment, and a strong economy for Nova Scotia,” said Premier MacDonald. “Minas Basin is taking a leadership role by helping to ensure environmental sustainability for this province.”

With this investment by the Government the company will be able to invest $27 million in capital investments.

“This assistance from the province allows us to enter the next phase of sustainable restructuring for Minas Basin,” said Scott Travers, Minas Basin president and chief operating officer. “It will create significant operational savings and increase the supply of renewable energy for Nova Scotia.

Details on the process that will be used at the Minas Basin facility were not readily available.

China began converting waste plastic into diesel in 1999, and since then have been importing large amounts of plastic waste that would otherwise go into landfills.

University of Delaware receives $3.75 million grant for solar power research

UD logo

According to this article on the university website, the University of Delaware’s Institute of Energy Conversion will receive $3.75 million in grant money from the Department of Energy under the Solar America Initiative over the next three years. 

Out of nine Universities receiving funding, Delaware is the largest recipient and will be working research projects with Dow Corning and SunPower corp.

“The Solar America Initiative is an exciting program that will enable us to continue our research in established areas, as well as develop expertise in new facets of photovoltaics working with our industry partners,” said Robert Birkmire, professor of materials science and engineering and director of IEC.

With Dow Chemical, the university will be working on flexible solar cells that are made by depositing semi-conductor material onto a flexible film.

The collaboration with SunPower will work towards improving the efficiency of solar cells beyond 26 percent. 

“We’ve developed a great group of people here — an integrated team of scientists and students from different disciplines, which is critical to this research,” Birkmire noted.