UPDATE 1-Economic stimulus bill pushes renewable energy

Thu Jan 15, 2009 10:51pm GMT

(Adds comments from Institute for Energy Research)

WASHINGTON Jan 15 (Reuters) - The $825 billion economic stimulus package unveiled by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday contains billions of dollars in tax breaks for renewable energy and spending for energy efficiency and transmission.

The legislation, aimed at boosting the recessionary U.S. economy, would provide $20 billion in tax cuts for alternative energy including a multi-year extension of the production tax credit for wind, geothermal, hydro power and bioenergy.

The bill also contains tax credits for research and development on energy conservation and efficiency.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has urged developing clean energy sources and creating a new "green" economy. He has pledged to invest $150 billion over 10 years to develop alternative energy, which he says will create 5 million jobs.

The bill also includes $32 billion to modernize the power transmission grid; $16 billion to retrofit some public housing to use less energy; and $2.4 billion to develop technology that allows coal-fired power plants to capture greenhouse gas emissions.

Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, called it essential to update the power grid.

"Thomas Edison would have recognized the technology in the power grid, so getting the equipment in the power grid to support the digital economy is one of highest priority investments we can make," Detchon said.

Detchon called the funds for smart grid technology a "down payment" for the much larger investment needed to make gains in alternative energy use, plug-in hybrids and energy efficiency.

Another $6 billion in the stimulus bill would help weatherize modest-income homes. Obama has said he plans to weatherize 1 million homes a year.

Critics complained the proposals were an inefficient use of government resources and did not address expanding oil and natural gas production or nuclear energy.

"You're basically diverting tax resources to achieve these goals, when if they were good investments people would be making them anyway," said Thomas Pyle, president of Institute for Energy Research. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by David Gregorio)