For all the hope and hoopla surrounding the largest public works program since the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, the share spent on long-term “green” investments is surprisingly small.
Most of the stimulus package goes to temporary measures, such as tax cuts, emergency aid to the states, and the extension of unemployment benefits.
Nearly a third of the $550 billion Congress is set to allocate in direct spending is called “green,” including money to modernize electricity transmission and experiment with a “smart grid.” But just $8 billion is destined for renewable power and electricity-related spending, according to an analysis by FBR Capital Markets. Another $16 billion in tax credits – of $275 billion of overall tax credits – is devoted directly to green-energy development.
Is that green investment of $24 billion enough to meet President Obama’s goals of creating tens of thousands of new jobs and doubling renewable-energy capacity in three years?
No, say renewable-energy advocates. They see the stimulus as only a down payment on green-energy development that will be fulfilled in a separate energy bill not yet formulated. Even the success of the stimulus’s “down payment” will depend crucially on how details of the plan are implemented, especially renewable energy tax credits, they add.
“In order to achieve President Obama’s goal of doubling energy in three years, we will have to triple utilization of these tax credits,” says Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s tricky, unless the industry can find a way to let companies trade credits for cash. “Without the tax-credit market, it’s going to be difficult to achieve that.”