US Senate votes for one-year grant extension

UNITED STATES: The US wind industry has passed a major hurdle following the Senate's vote to move forward legislation containing a one-year extension of the renewable energy cash grant program.

The provision extends the deadline to start construction of qualifying projects from the end of this year to the end of 2011.

It is part of broader tax bill whose main focus is the extension of expiring tax cuts instituted during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Monday’s vote was to overcome filibusters from opponents of the controversial $848-billion package. The Senate still has to vote on the legislation itself, and if passed as expected, the bill would still need approval from the House of Representatives.

Democrats there have complained the legislation favours the wealthy and many want alterations to package, but Republicans have cautioned that making changes at this stage risks the entire deal.

An extension of the cash grant program’s construction deadline was not part of the original agreement hammered out between President Barack Obama and rival Republicans, but was added late last week as a sweetener to win over reluctant Democrats.

The renewable energy sector lobbied intensively for its inclusion, arguing that allowing the program to lapse would put investment in new projects and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

The cash grant is equivalent to 30% of eligible project costs and was introduced in 2009 to make financing projects easier in a weak economy.

Under current rules, projects have to start construction this year and come on line by the end of 2012 to get the payment.