Contained in the $700 billion bill to bail out the troubled financial markets is $18 billion in tax credits for investments in renewable energy--solar, wind, and other alternatives--and incentives for making homes and businesses more energy efficient. Passage of the bill ended more than a year of bickering between the House and the Senate over extending the credits, which are enthusiastically supported not only by environmentalists, but also by the NAHB the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and other groups.
But do homeowners really care about energy tax credits when their house values are dropping; their 401(k) balances are plummeting; their jobs are in jeopardy; and their food, gasoline, energy, and healthcare costs are rising? And can our new president-- whether he's a Republican or a Democrat--make the environment a priority with a full-blown recession looming?
Like most Americans, renewable energies certainly don't top my priority list; I have too many other things to worry about. My retirement accounts have time to recover, but my sons will be in college in four years and I am concerned about their tuition funds (I don't dare check them). And because my boys are growing like weeds, I make several treks to the grocery store each week to load up on high-priced staples. Meanwhile, my house is worth a lot less (but fortunately more than my mortgage), and my job as editor of magazines and Web sites for builders and remodelers is vulnerable.
Still, I believe Congress and President Bush did the right thing by renewing the energy tax credits; they may not have a huge impact during the next year or two, but they are an investment in our future. Not only do the credits include coverage for less-mainstream energies like geothermal and biofuels, they also extend a tax credit of $2,000 to builders for construction of a home that achieves a 50% reduction in energy use compared with a house built according to the 2004 IECC energy code. And they offer homeowners credits for installing solar systems and making their dwellings more energy efficient.
Besides promoting alternative energies and fuel efficiencies, a number of people, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have said the tax credits will spur the green job market. In a statement, Pelosi said the provisions are critical to creating and preserving more than 500,000 "good-paying green-collar American jobs in the wind and solar industries alone."
According to their Web sites, presidential candidates Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain both support renewable energy and other green initiatives. Nevertheless, neither McCain nor Obama say how they will pay for their green goals or if they'll make them priorities.
Despite the gloomy economic outlook, the spotlight needs to stay focused on renewable energies and other proposals that will not only reduce the nation's dependence on foreign fuels, but also make our homes more energy efficient and healthier for our families. It's the right thing to do. The next Mr. President, are you listening?
Jean Dimeo is Chief Editor, Online for EcoHome.