Renewable Energy Debate

March 15, 2019 – Volume 29, Issue 11
Can alternative sources replace fossil fuels? By Matt Mossman


Continued Expansion

Kendircioglu at John Hancock Financial Services says that within 10 years, advances in energy-storage batteries will open new frontiers in solar and wind energy. “We will still be talking about renewable energy as a major driver of change, though it might not be the biggest part of the electricity mix,” he says. “That could take longer.”

That uncertainty hinges partly on the outlook for federal renewable energy tax credits that have helped bring the number of homes with solar panels to about 2 million. This year, homeowners and businesses can deduct up to 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar or small wind turbine system from their federal income taxes. The deduction falls to 26 percent next year and to 22 percent in 2021. After 2021, the solar tax credit drops to 10 percent indefinitely for businesses and disappears for homeowners, and the wind tax credit disappears for both homeowners and businesses.118

A separate production tax credit (PTC) for wind developers, based on the number of kilowatt hours of electricity they sell each taxable year, disappears for projects starting construction after 2019. Experts say the tax credit, the most expensive energy subsidy in the country, has been the primary driver of wind development nationwide.119

Some experts believe the momentum behind renewable energy projects will continue despite declining federal investments.

Sean O'Leary, communications director for the Northwest Energy Coalition, an alliance of environmental and civic organizations headquartered in Seattle, said wind developers, for example, are rushing to start projects this year before the PTC expires. But he added, “We're not seeing an indication now that there's going to be a major retreat on wind development.”120

That is partly due to policies in some states — called renewable portfolio standards — that require utilities to obtain a set share of their electricity from renewable sources. At least 29 states and Washington, D.C., have such standards in place, and more are considering it.121

Increasing interest in renewable energy among states and cities, combined with rising consumer demand for sustainable power sources and falling prices for electricity from wind and solar farms, will continue to drive expansion in renewables, government officials say.

By 2050, renewable energy sources will have overtaken both coal and nuclear power in supplying the United States with electricity and will be second only to natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It predicts that renewables will account for 31 percent of the country's electricity generation in 30 years, up from about 18 percent now, with solar power leading the way.

“Growing renewable use has driven down the costs of renewables technologies … further supporting their expanding adoption by the electric power and buildings sectors,” the agency said.122

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[118] Angela Chen, “Why solar is likely to power the Home of the Future,” The Verge, Aug. 13, 2018,; “The Energy Credit: An Investment Tax Credit for Renewable Energy,” Congressional Research Service, Nov. 2, 2018,

[119] Lisa Linowes, “Wind Growth after PTC Expiration,” MasterResource, Sept. 24, 2018,

[120] Samantha Wohlfeil, “With a major tax incentive about to sunset, experts say the time to buy into wind projects is now,” Inlander, Dec. 27, 2018,

[121] “Updated renewable portfolio standards will lead to more renewable electricity generation,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, Feb. 27, 2019,

[122] “Annual Energy Outlook 2019 with projections to 2050,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 2019,

Document APA Citation
Mossman, M. (2019, March 15). Renewable energy debate. CQ researcher, 29, 1-58. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2019031507
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