On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives (“House”) approved its version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“Stimulus Bill”) by a 244-188 vote. The bill largely adopted provisions passed by House committees last week (see January 23, 2009 edition of the WER).
However, two notable amendments have since been added to the House’s version of the Stimulus Bill. First, House lawmakers added $3 billion in additional funding for transit projects, which will be divided equally between the transit capital improvement program and the new starts transit program. Second, the House added a “use it or lose it” amendment that would force federal and state agencies to spend half of the Stimulus Bill’s funding within 90 days of its enactment.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Finance and the Senate Appropriations Committee each passed titles of the Stimulus Bill this week. While the resulting spending package is very similar to the House’s Stimulus Bill, there are some distinct differences. The biggest difference relates to the loan guarantee program. The Senate’s package currently provides $50 billion in loan volume for unspecified clean energy projects, which could be available for advanced coal-based systems and advanced nuclear projects. It also sets aside $9.5 billion for the new renewables/transmission loan program. Conversely, the House’s Stimulus Bill sets aside $8 billion for its new renewables/transmission loan guarantee program. Only renewables and transmission projects, including hyrdo would qualify. Appropriations made under the renewables/transmission loan guarantee program are expected to finance 10% of the total face value of each loan.
Some of the other differences between the two bills affect federal tax credits and climate change research. The House Stimulus Bill contains a provision that allows developers of renewable energy to convert federal tax credits into cash, for example, if a company’s credits exceed its tax liability. Currently the Senate’s Stimulus Bill does not contain such a provision. Additionally, the Senate has allocated about $100 million more to climate change research than the House’s Stimulus Bill.
Finally, both bills contain the controversial “decoupling” provision that requires states to implement rate design mechanisms allowing utilities to recover fixed costs in exchange for energy efficiency and conservation grants. Legislation passed in 2007 only required states to consider decoupling. Both state regulators and consumer advocates are concerned how such a provision may affect current state energy efficiency programs and the amount of input governors may have in the rate-making process.
The full Senate is expected to vote on its version of the Stimulus Bill next week, where 60 votes are needed to advance the legislation. If it passes, the House and Senate will hold conferences to resolve any differences between their respective versions of the Stimulus Bill.