UPDATE – Senate agrees to debate stimulus bill, energy incentives

The Senate voted, 80-4, to allow debate on a House-passed economic stimulus bill. The debate, expected Feb. 6, is to include discussion of Senate committee amendments, including language to extend expiring production tax credits and Clean Renewable Energy Bonds for renewable energy projects.

The Feb. 4 vote ensured the Senate had at least the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster that could block action on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated action on the bill could occur by Feb. 6.

Instead of the bill as amended by the Senate Finance Committee, the original House bill containing a $146 billion economic stimulus package will be brought up for debate. Reid said he would offer as a floor amendment the Senate committee’s $157 billion version, containing the extension of the renewable energy incentives. (HNN 2/1/08) Reid said other amendments likely would be offered.

Floor action was being delayed a day until after the giant “Super Tuesday” series of state presidential primaries Feb. 5. Reid said that would allow the three senators running for president, Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Barack Obama, D-Ill.; and John McCain, R-Ariz., to interrupt their campaigns to return for what could be a close vote.

The Finance Committee added a one-year extension of the production tax credits for renewable energy sources currently qualified under the expiring PTC law. The eligible project in-service date would be extended to Dec. 31, 2009.

Among qualified energy sources are small irrigation hydropower of less that 5 MW, and “incremental” hydro: efficiency improvements or capacity additions to existing hydro projects, and the addition of hydropower generation to existing non-hydropower water resources facilities. The incremental hydropower projects would continue to receive only half the production tax credit offered to other technologies. Based on inflation adjustment in 2007, hydro projects received 1 cent per kWh, compared to 2 cents/kWh for other technologies.

The committee also endorsed a one-year extension of the Clean Renewable Energy Bond program and an increase in the volume cap on bonds by $400 million. Clean Renewable Energy Bonds were created to provide tax-exempt state and local governments and electric cooperatives with a federal incentive to invest in renewable energy generation projects. They are to provide an incentive similar to the production tax credits available to investor-owned utilities that invest in such projects.

Congress previously authorized a total of $1.2 billion in bonding authority for the program, which is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2008. (HNN 1/28/08)

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