US’s clean energy industry issues coronavirus warning


The Loftus solar farm in California. Photo credit: jaidee/ Pixabay.

By Anders Lorenzen

Wind and solar companies in the US have pleaded with lawmakers for financial help as the Covid-19 outbreak is delaying projects. The industry was not included in the $2 trillion stimulus package approved by the US Congress last week, and which was then signed into law by Trump on Friday.

Trade groups, Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association, have warned that the disruptions related to the outbreak could result in 160, 000 jobs losses if the Congress does not take action. Last month the US saw more people file for unemployment than during the entire period of the 2008 financial collapse. This comes as the US overtook Italy as the country where most people have tested positive for Covid-19. President Donald Trump continues to argue that fears about the virus are overblown and a hoax. This is similar to his approach to climate change.

The trade groups argue that Congress should extend the deadline by which projects qualify for federal tax credits.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had argued such demands were slowing down legislation, though Democrats were still hopeful they could be included. Companies operating in the clean energy sector are still hopeful that these requests will be successful.

Wind and solar energy companies argue that their challenges are unique because they face strict deadlines for claiming tax credits passed by Congress years ago. The global pandemic will almost certainly cause some projects that had planned to use those credits to miss their opportunity.

In some states, the sector is already experiencing labour constraints due to stay at home orders. Additionally, shipments of supplies such as solar panels and other components have been disrupted by lockdowns in many parts of Asia and Europe. This highlights how dependant the clean energy industries are on a globalised economy. 

A major developer of wind and solar projects in the US, Pattern Energy Group, has both sent and received notices said its Chief Executive Mark Garland. The same has developer Invenergy LCC on its 300 megawatts (MW) Badger Hollow solar project in Wisconsin because of a regulatory filing citing the potential impact of factory shutdowns and travel restrictions on their suppliers and contractors. And 8minute Solar Energy has halted work on its 50 MW Lotus solar farm in California after Governor Gavin Newsom called upon residents to stay at home. The project was expected to be completed in May and would have delivered electricity for more than 12,000 households for the utility company, Southern California Edison

The Californian based developer, however, is more concerned about the company’s ability to secure financing during the public health crisis. This causes lenders to have doubts as well as major anxieties about companies’ abilities to meet tax credit deadlines. Its chief operating officer Josh Goldstein has said “If that ability to monetize the tax credit goes away, you have gigawatts (GW) and GW’s of projects that were supposed to be built over the next two to three years that are very much in jeopardy.” 

The chief executive of solar developer Intersect Power, Sheldon Kimber said that what the industry needs is not a bailout, but instead “a handful of definitive tweaks to the tax credits we already get.” The company has five projects in the pipeline scheduled to begin construction in California and Texas this year.

Earlier this month the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned policymakers the transition to clean energy could be threatened by the coronavirus. 


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