Solar companies see hope in stimulus bill

February 17, 2009 7:26:13 PM PST
This has been a rough year so far for the solar power business in the Bay Area. Not just the installers, but also the manufacturers of solar panels are hurting.

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The business of manufacturing solar panels and installing them on the rooftops of houses and companies is an industry that has relied on tax credits. But those tax credits for businesses are useless when there is no profit to write off with tax credit.

"Because they don't show profits as they used to, they're having a hard time using the tax credits, which is why a lot of the solar projects are having to be put on hold," Solar City CEO Lyndon Rive said. Rive says commercial business has slowed to a crawl.

But there may be some relief in the in the stimulus act signed Tuesday by the president. Instead of tax credits, the legislation provides a tax grant -- actual cash, like a rebate, to companies that go solar.

"It's not going to be an immediate fix tomorrow," Rive said. But Rive believes it could stimulate his business back to the 30 percent growth he saw before the economy tanked.

It is welcome news at Opitsolar in Hayward; last month Optisolar had to lay off half it workforce.

"The investment we are making today will create a new, smarter electric grid that will allow for broader us of alternative energy," President Obama said.

Tuesday, Obama talked up the spending package and started up a Web site that promises to track the spending. Right now just lists broad areas and the amounts allocated because the funds have not started flowing.

A short list promises it will create or save 3.5 million jobs, double renewable energy, increase college Pell grants, spend $150 billion on infrastructure projects and provide $800 million in family tax credits.

Unemployment and food benefits will also increase.

But not everyone is happy. On Wall Street stocks tumbled nearly 300 points Tuesday.

"Well Wall Street was looking for more tax cuts and we were hoping job creation would be quicker," analyst Alan Valdes said.

Among the first jobs to be created will be construction -- road and bridge repair. $27 billion is going to states to pay for those projects, states like California who say they have got those projects ready to go.

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