HARRISBURG - Builders of wind farms, owners of coal-fired power plants, and buyers of hybrid cars and solar panels would be among those to benefit from a $650 million compromise bill passed by the Pennsylvania Senate yesterday to promote cleaner energies and conservation.
The measure - approved, 44-5, on the Senate's last day of business for the year - calls for tax credits, rebates, loans and grants over a decade or more in an effort to cut electricity bills and pollution and make the state a destination for the booming renewable- and cleaner-energy industry.
Majority Republicans advanced the bill, which is their response to the energy platform that Gov. Rendell proposed 10 months ago. The Democratic-led House is likely to change the bill, which Rendell said contained too little money to make Pennsylvania competitive with other states trying to attract cutting-edge energy businesses.
The Senate also passed two biodiesel bills yesterday, declining Rendell's request for legislation that would also support ethanol.
"This is a wonderful start and is a great way to end our calendar year with what I think is a great success under our belt," said Sen. Mary Jo White (R., Venango), who chairs the Energy and Environmental Resources Committee and was a sponsor of all three bills.
Rendell complained that the energy bill would take too long to distribute subsidies, would err in giving money to coal-fired power plants, and would pack too little punch to put Pennsylvania on the energy map.
"It falls woefully short of what we need," he said.
Sen. Jim Ferlo (D., Allegheny), who voted against the bill, said it didn't go far enough to promote cutting-edge energy. Another opponent, Sen. John Eichelberger (R., Blair), questioned the wisdom of subsidizing energy sources, such as wind and solar, that are much more plentiful elsewhere in the country.
The bill would divide the $650 million among sectors of the energy industry and residents and business owners.
The biggest chunk, $380 million, would go to companies that produce energy, make equipment for the industry, or research and develop technologies. Among the energy sectors that could benefit are wind, biofuels, solar, geothermal and coal. Some of the money also would be available to local governments for renewable-energy and conservation projects.
An additional $165 million would be available for reimbursements and rebates for consumers who buy solar panels, hybrid vehicles, and home conservation items.
The remainder would go to low-income families, with $100 million in emergency aid to help them pay utility bills.
The $650 million bill approved by the Senate contains:
in loans and grants to help finance energy projects by local governments and businesses.
in tax credits to help finance wind farms, waste-coal power plants, solar-power installations and other facilities; the research, development and manufacture of energy sources and equipment; and rail systems to transport alternative or renewable fuels.
in grants to help poor families pay for heating or electricity.
in grants, reimbursements and rebates to help residents pay for home conservation projects.
in rebates to help businesses and residents buy and install solar and photovoltaic panels.
in grants to help owners of coal-fired power plants buy equipment to meet federal and state pollution standards.
to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority to invest in research and start-up companies.
in rebates for the purchase of a hybrid gas-electric vehicle (boosting the rebate per vehicle from $500 to $750).
to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for loans to help low-income homeowners pay for conservation projects.