In green technology news this week, U.S. lawmakers finally signed off on a bill that would obliterate the “fiscal cliff”—and in the process, managed to include billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wind, biofuel and solar industries.
The package passed this week by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama renews more than 50 tax breaks retroactively, so taxpayers can claim them on both their 2012 and 2013 tax returns. Among the provisions that will support the cleantech sector are:
A tax credit for research and development, benefiting a wide range of industries, including manufacturers and high-tech companies (price tag (News - Alert): $14.3 billion);
A production tax credit for the generation of wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy, including biofuels (price tag: $12.2 billion); and
A tax credit of up to $2,500 for buying electric vehicles (EVs), which was expanded to include electric motorcycles. (Price tag: $7 million
In other major industry news, Warren Buffett, arguably the most successful investor of the 20th century, is putting his money—between $2 billion and $2.5 billion of it—in two solar energy projects. Together, the projects will constitute the largest permitted solar photovoltaic power development in the world. On January 2, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a subsidiary of Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company, agreed to acquire and build two projects in California from Silicon Valley-based PV solar manufacturer SunPower Corporation. The Antelope Valley Solar Projects— two co-located projects in Kern and Los Angeles Counties — will generate a cumulative 579 megawatts (MW) of grid-tied energy, which will be sold directly to Southern California Edison (News - Alert) under long-term power purchase contracts approved by the California Public Utilities. This marks the third time within the past year that Buffett has splurged on solar energy. He has created a unit within MidAmerican, called MidAmerican Renewables, to support an increasing number of solar and wind investments.
And in the coming green revolution, the Town of Concord, Mass., has fired the first “shot heard ‘round the world.” It has become the number one municipality in America—and possibly on the planet—to make the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles illegal within its borders. Under a new bylaw effective January 1, stores will be fined for violating the ban on “non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of one liter (34 ounces) or less.” The law was approved last April at a town meeting. Stores found in violation of the ban will receive a warning on the first offense, followed by a $25 fine for a second violation and $50 for each subsequent offense. According to “The Concord Post,” bottlers and manufacturers already are fighting back. Recently, a visitor, who told Concordians he was with Bottled Water Matters, circulated a petition for a re-vote at a general election—asserting that it was unfair that only those who attended the traditional, New England-style town meeting got to have their say. The $22 billion U.S. retail packaged-water industry has reason to be nervous. More than 90 schools, among them Brown University, Loyola University, and Harvard University, are banning the sale, or restricting the use of, plastic water bottles. The University of Vermont added its own name to the list starting this week.
While electric vehicle (EV) drivers in Washington may not be experiencing pain at the pump, they are pretty darn “sore” at the state legislature. As of 2013, EV owners will be charged an extra $100 on their new and annual vehicle registration fees, in order to cover their “fair share” of the cost of road repairs. A law passed during 2012 ensures that Washington State drivers who don’t pay gasoline taxes still will contribute to Department of Transportation infrastructure improvements. Granted, $100 over the course of a year is much less expensive than paying Washington’s 37.5 cent gasoline tax. Still, the new law is controversial. Critics of the tax argue that EV owners may not pay gas taxes—but they do pay taxes on electricity, which they use to charge their cars. With about 1,600 EVs registered to date in the state, the new tax should net only $160,000 on an annual basis. The fee targets fully electric vehicles only, since hybrids still use gas and owners pay the fuel tax—and it provides an exemption for vehicles that do not travel faster than 35 miles per hour. As a result, Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla’s Roadster would be subject to the tax, while Toyota’s Prius and Chevy’s Volt would avoid it. On the “Washington Votes” website, one constituent remarked, “I can't wait for the windmill fee, the solar cell fee, and the microhydro fee.”
Toyota again applied for more U.S. cleantech patents than any other corporation during the third fiscal quarter of 2012—repeating its exceptional performance during the first eight months of the year, according to an index published by a U.S. law firm that specializes in intellectual property. Published since 2002 by the Cleantech Group of Albany, New York-based Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C., the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) provides an overview of leading-edge green innovation—and investments— in America. The CEPGI tracks U.S. patents for solar, wind, hybrid/electric vehicles, fuel cells, hydroelectric, tidal/wave, geothermal, biomass/biofuels and other clean renewable energy. Results from 3Q 2012 reveal that 798 U.S. patents were granted— exceeding the second-quarter total of 786, to become the most prolific quarter since tracking of the CEPGI began. What’s more, patents for the third quarter of 2012 are up 199 over those granted during the third quarter of 2011. The top five patent recipients (of the top ten listed in the story) for the third quarter were: Toyota, General Electric, General Motors, Honda (News - Alert), and Samsung.
Finally, Iberdrola, a multinational electric utility based in Spain, is divesting itself of a portfolio of 32 operating wind farms in France, currently producing a cumulative 321.4 megawatts (MW). The company had announced in London last October that it would sell assets in non-core businesses and markets to strengthen its balance sheet. Iberdrola has reached an agreement with an international consortium of buyers, including: EDF Energies Nouvelles, a French renewable energy corporation (20 percent), MEAG, a German asset management division of Munich Re and ERGO (40 percent), and GE Energy Financial Services (40 percent), a unit of U.S.-based General Electric, a manufacturer of wind turbines. The transaction is valued at US$461 million (€350 million); plus an additional US$66 million (€50 million), depending on wind resources at the wind farms. To date, the 160 wind turbines installed for the projects have been sourced from a variety of manufacturers. The consortium envisions re-powering some of the wind farms to improve their efficiency and reliability using GE technology. Each member of the consortium stated that the transaction is consistent with its renewable energy investment strategy.
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