Opinion

Let’s Unleash American Innovation to Drive Clean Energy Forward

We were heartened to see several prominent U.S. senators join the bipartisan Senate Climate Caucus recently to focus on developing new climate legislation. We could not agree more with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that “we as Americans have the ability to come up with climate solutions that can benefit our economy and our way of life.”  

This group should start its work by supporting a climate policy that historically has had strong bipartisan support: clean energy tax incentives, including the solar Investment Tax Credit.

The ITC has been the single-most effective federal policy for clean energy deployment since President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress established it in 2006. Since then, the ITC has helped grow clean energy generation by 20,904.3 percent.

The ITC incentivizes the installation of clean energy technology such as solar power and geothermal heat pumps. Homeowners and businesses can claim a tax credit equal to 30 percent of their investment through the end of 2019, but the credit begins to step down in 2020.

Congress should pass legislation this year to delay this step-down. Failure to do so will put our clean energy progress at risk.

The ITC has helped create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and has made clean energy more accessible to Americans in every state. There are now three times as many clean energy jobs as there are coal and natural gas jobs combined. The ITC has also spurred business model innovation that has removed barriers and expanded clean energy access to low-income and middle-class families.

As a technological innovation supercharger, the ITC has helped reduce the price of solar by more than 55 percent since 2005 and has increased the efficiency of solar panels by 33 percent. We’re getting more power from every panel at a lower price thanks to the ITC.

Energy storage is innovating before our eyes, with solar-paired residential storage “surging,” and 2019 is expected to be the biggest year yet. This transformation would not be happening at this pace without the ITC.

Our industries are resilient and prepared for a post-ITC world and will continue to grow. But it does not make sense for Congress to forfeit its most potent carbon reduction weapon when solar still only accounts for less than 2 percent of U.S. electricity.

It also will make it harder for states to reach 100 percent clean energy goals. We shouldn’t be slowing clean energy deployment and job growth at a time of record-setting temperatures and growing recession fears.

Further, continuing the ITC is important to the next wave of innovative clean technologies such as residential geothermal. Geothermal today looks much like solar did in 2005; it’s building customer awareness and adoption, growing its workforce, and beginning to bring down costs. With the ITC, geothermal companies can scale up faster and lower costs to make this technology more accessible to everyday families.

Just as electric batteries are beginning to replace internal combustion engines in cars, geothermal heat pumps are beginning to replace the internal combustion engine in your basement: the furnace. This conversion is particularly important in the Northeast and Midwest, where more than 10 million households, including nearly 25 percent of all homes in New York State, heat their homes with expensive, polluting fossil fuels like heating oil and propane.

The United States has some of the greatest geothermal potential in the world, but we have barely scratched the surface to develop it. According to the Department of Energy, 28 million households in the United States can take advantage of geothermal technology.

Residential geothermal has the potential to save Americans up to $49.8 billion in energy costs and help decarbonize home heating and cooling. The result would be reducing carbon emissions by 356 million metric tons — the rough carbon equivalent of taking 75 million cars off the road.

We all have a stake in preserving our environment and improving the health of our communities. Congress should maintain the investment tax credit to continue fueling innovation, job creation and clean energy deployment.

 

Lynn Jurich is the co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, the nation’s leading home solar, battery storage and energy services company. Kathy Hannun is the co-founder and CEO of Dandelion Energy, a residential geothermal company.

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