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The wind industry appears be confident that the credits will be extended "because there are a lot of [wind] turbines being sold well into 2009, 2010, 2011," Cheney said. "But still, wind farm developers can't bridge any particular [subsidy] gap if it's a long one. And if it's not renewed at all, companies will start unraveling."
With the tax breaks up in the air, banks are telling solar companies such as SunEdison in Beltsville to hold off on any projects that wouldn't get done this year, said SunEdison senior vice president Chris Cook.
"If you lose 20 percent of the [tax break], first we'll look toward state incentives to cover the gap," Cook said. "If you hit a cap with that, we'll once again have to go back to the customer and ask if they will make up the difference. My guess would be . . . they'll say no, and the deal will fall apart."
Maryland this year increased its grants for solar power projects and requirements that businesses buy 20 percent of their power from clean energy sources by 2020. The District is looking to set similar standards, while Virginia offers cash incentives for installation of renewable energy technologies.
To lawmakers weighing the merits of the tax breaks, wind and solar industry representatives stress the incentives as a job creation measure in a time of economic weakness.
"In the absence of an extension by Memorial Day, we're looking at 116,000 jobs at risk -- 76,000 in wind and 40,000 in solar -- and $19 billion in clean energy investment," said Greg Wetstone, a lobbyist for the American Wind Energy Association. "We have a lot of friends in the House, and we need to make them understand that time is imperative."
Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this report.