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Another Voice: Congress must act to extend solar tax credit

By Jon Powers

In just a few weeks, the federal government may start phasing out its most successful environmental policy in recent memory: the solar investment tax credit.

That would be a mistake. The tax credit has proved enormously effective, sparking a clean energy revolution that created hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country – including thousands here in New York. It may be up to our own Sen. Charles E. Schumer to ensure Congress extends the program.

Legislators designed the credit to accelerate America’s adoption of solar energy, knowing that there would be myriad long-term benefits, including job creation, reduced carbon emissions, lower energy costs and even stronger national security. The credit works by effectively lopping 30% off the cost of a solar system, so a New Yorker who purchases a $15,000 rooftop solar array pays $4,500 less on her taxes the following year.

That incentive supercharged the solar sector, resulting in 10,000% growth since the credit was introduced in 2006. New York alone boasts more than 1,775 megawatts of solar capacity, enough to power more than 300,000 homes. And “solar installer” was one of the fastest growing jobs in America in 2019. The industry employs nearly 10,000 people across the state; only three other states have more solar workers.

But even in New York, only 1.6% of our electricity comes from this renewable source. In other words, solar has plenty of room to grow.

And grow it must, if we are to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels and avoid the worst predicted effects of global warming. Scientists have been ringing the climate alarm bells for decades, and CEOs, politicians of both parties, concerned civilians, and military and intelligence leaders are increasingly taking action to address the risks that come with a rapidly changing climate.

Solar plays a vital role in reducing emissions, of course, supplanting 73 million metric tons of pollution annually. But it also builds America’s energy independence and resilience.

As a combat veteran of the Iraq War, I saw firsthand how closely intertwined America’s national security and our reliance on foreign oil can be. Homegrown, renewable energy should be a national security priority. Thanks to progressive leadership in the armed services, I’m pleased to note that the U.S. military was an early adopter of clean energy.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer has enormous leverage to demand an extension. Currently, government funding will run out just before Thanksgiving. For the sake of the planet, let’s hope he acts soon.

Jon Powers, an Iraq War veteran, is president and co-founder of CleanCapital, a clean energy investment platform.

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