U.S. economic stimulus to boost renewable energy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After weeks of debate, Democratic leaders in House of Representatives and the Senate have reached an agreement on an economic stimulus package that would pump billions of dollars into “smart grid” projects and renewable energy.

People are reflected in the mirror system of the CarouSol high efficiency solar cell system made by GreenVolts at the 2008 Solar Power Conference and Expo at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California October 14, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The $789 billion package, which now must be approved by both chambers, contains $11 billion for modernizing the U.S. electricity grid and developing so-called smart grids.

Smart grids utilize technology to create more efficient and less costly methods of moving electricity.

Aimed at boosting the nation’s economy and creating jobs, the legislation also provides $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects such as wind or solar energy development.

Solar industry representatives said the stimulus bill would add 67,000 jobs to the sector in 2009 and a total of 119,000 jobs over the next two years.

“The solar provisions in the bill will allow us to begin hiring, create growth opportunities for small businesses throughout the country and keep the economic engine going,” Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch said in a statement.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama stressed the importance of providing tax breaks and loan guarantees for firms that produce solar and wind energy.

He also said the government must invest in new technologies to drive down renewable energy costs over the long term.

“The country that figures out how to make cheaper energy that’s also clean, that country is going to win the economic competition of the future,” he said.

The stimulus provides $6.3 billion for energy efficiency and conservation grants.

In addition, $5 billion is slated to go toward helping to weatherize homes and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.

Other energy provision in the stimulus include:

-- $3.4 billion for research and development of fossil energy;

-- $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research;

-- $1 billion energy efficiency programs including energy-efficient appliances and trucks and buses that run on alternative fuel.

Editing by Christian Wiessner