IN recent years, wind and solar power have been among the fastest-growing sources of energy in the country.
But questions loom over their future: Will federal incentives that are important to their growth continue? And what happens if those incentives expire?
For wind power, the situation is especially precarious, energy specialists say. The federal production tax credit, which has provided incentives for wind farm operators to produce power since 1992, expires at the end of 2012. Congress has extended it in the past, most recently in 2009 as part of the federal stimulus package. But this time, some in the industry fear that the mood for limited government in Washington could imperil an extension.
If Congress does not extend the credit, "I believe 2013 would have minimal if not close to zero wind built in the United States," said Michael O'Sullivan, the senior vice president for development at NextEra Energy Resources, a huge clean energy developer in Juno Beach, Fla.
The solar business faces the expiration of an important grant program at the end of this year. The grants were created as part of the stimulus package, and the industry is lobbying for a one-year extension.
The expiration of the program would have a "really significant compressing effect on the amount of renewable energy that gets financed," said Edward Fenster, the chief executive of SunRun, a San Francisco-based company that leases solar installations to homeowners. An extension would allow SunRun's business to grow 50 percent faster, though the company would grow even without it, he said.