Renewable energy debate in San Jose

March 12, 2008 7:37:38 PM PDT
Going green could take a big hit unless the federal government takes action this year. San Jose's mayor is especially worried that a slowdown in clean technology would hurt the local economy and do even more harm to the environment.

The owners of a commercial building in South San Francisco are getting a federal tax break for installing solar panels -- 30 percent of the total cost. Homeowners get up to a $2,000 dollar tax credit. That's all set to expire at the end of the year.

"The biggest fear we have within the solar industry is that the tax credits don't get extended and a lot of the business infrastructure that we've put into place over the last five or six years is going to kind of go on hiatus," says Akeena Solar CEO Barry Cinnamon.

That concern has sparked San Jose's Mayor Chuck Reed to launch a legislative agenda. He says tremendous gains in clean tech jobs and environmentally responsible action will slow dramatically if the federal government doesn't pass the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act.

"When I met with Senator Boxer, she asked for specific examples that she could use with her fellow senators that showed that this clean technology is real, the jobs are real, the savings are real, and we're providing her with that information as part of this strategy," says Mayor Reed.

The House of Representives passed the renewable energy tax breaks this month, but the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate and a veto threat from the president.

Oil companies generally oppose the bill because it would eliminate subsidies for oil exploration in the United States.

Severin Bornstein is the director of the UC Energy Institute. He believes the bill puts too much emphasis on solar energy, but says it's the kind of legislation that's desperately needed.

"It's clearly time to repeal the tax breaks that oil companies get for U.S. production and it's also really important, at this point, to start investing more in research and development to produce alternative energy sources," says Bornstein.

The San Jose City Council will vote on Tuesday whether to back the mayor's plan and join forces with other cities and put pressure on lawmakers to extend a renewable energy policy.