Solar industry 'optimistic' Trump won't attack the ITC

The US solar industry does not expect President-elect Donald Trump to take an axe to existing renewables tax credits, and anticipates a productive relationship with Trump’s Cabinet nominees, says Abigail Hopper, the incoming chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the solar tax credits will remain intact,” Hopper said in a conference call with reporters Thursday, a week before she takes the reins at Washington DC-based SEIA, the main US solar lobbying group.

“If you look at the way in which they were put in place, by bipartisan agreement and with a very clear step-down mechanism, I think it addresses some of the concerns maybe others have, and provides a clear runway for the solar industry,” Hopper said.

“I think the solar industry has a strong story to tell that will resonate with our president-elect in terms of job creation, innovation and investment,” she said, adding the sector is "comfortable" with its generation costs compared to competing energy sectors.

In late 2015 the US Congress extended the 30% ITC in full through the end of 2019, with scheduled step-downs to 22% by 2021, before the tax credit drops permanently to 10% for commercial projects and nothing for residential PV systems.

SEIA’s lobbying under former chief executive Rhone Resch was instrumental in securing the ITC extension, which is several years longer than the extension the wind industry secured for its production tax credit.

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Ensuring the tax credits are not diluted or eliminated is a “top priority” for SEIA in 2017, said Hopper, who joins the trade group from her role as director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore wind leasing in federal US waters.

Asked what the impact on the industry would be if the incoming Republican-controlled Congress were to dilute or eliminate the solar tax credits, Hopper said: “We haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that just yet. We’re focused on making sure they stay in place.”

Thanks to the ITC and the rapid decline of solar's cost, the US market is booming, with SEIA and GTM Research having forecast about 14GW of new installations in 2016, a stunning 85% rise on the previous year.

While many analysts concur with Hopper's cautious optimism for key federal renewables incentives, Trump's election has nevertheless cast a pall over the sector. Sungevity, a leading rooftop solar company, recently pointed a finger at the policy uncertainty the election has brought as a factor behind the scrapping of its IPO.

Hopper added that while it’s clear that Trump’s pick to led the US Energy Department, former Texas governor Rick Perry, would focus on expanding fossil-fuels production, SEIA believes Perry would not take an antagonistic stance towards renewables.

“He oversaw a state in which there was a proliferation of wind energy,” she noted. “So clearly I think he understands the importance of a diverse portfolio, and the importance of having energy products that have a constant price.”

“We’re optimistic about working with the governor,” Hopper said.

Perry’s confirmation hearing before the US Senate is scheduled for 21 January.