Legislation proposed in the House and Senate last week would provide significant rebates for residential and commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal systems.  The bills, offered by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would aim to install 10 million additional solar roof tops in America by 2019, as well as increase solar thermal heating capacity by 10 million gallons.

Under the proposals, the US Federal Government would provide homeowners and commercial developers up to $1.75 per watt of installed capacity for PV systems ranging in size up to 2-megawatts.  The rebate, however, would not exceed 50 percent of the cost of the system after factoring in all other applicable federal, state, and local incentives and tax credits. Solar thermal systems would receive a rebate of $1.00 per watt of installed capacity in 2010.

Over time, the rebates within both bills would gradually decline as the solar markets mature. The full $1.75 per watt for solar PV would be available in 2010 and 2011, and in 2012 the solar PV rebates decrease to $1.50 per watt. Eventually, the rebate decreases to $0.50 per watt of installed solar PV in 2018. At this time, the rebate timeline for solar thermal is not defined. But, language in the bill suggests rebates for solar thermal will follow a similar gradual decline over time.

The sponsors of the bill anticipate the rebate incentives would stimulate the development of at least 30,000 additional megawatts of clean and domestic PV energy capacity in America.

The Senate bill’s (S. 2993) cosponsors include Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). The bill has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The House bill’s (H.R. 4597) cosponsors include Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lois Capps (D-CA), John J. Hall (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Laura Richardson (D-CA), Steve Rothman (D-NJ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), and John Yarmuth (D-KY). The bill has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.