From the roof of the West Wing of the White House, President Carter called yesterday for creation of a $100 million solar energy bank to help move the country toward a goal of getting 20 percent of its power from the sun and other renewable sources of energy by the year 2000.
The president was on the White House roof on an appropriately sunny day to dedicate the West Wing's solar hot water heating system, which was installed in April to symbolize Carter's commitment to solar energy.
He used the occasion to warn about the danger of continued "crippling dependence on foreign oil" and to declare his own commitment to solar power as an increasingly important alternative source of energy.
"There is no longer any question that solar energy is feasible and cost effective," the president said.
In his rooftop talk and in a lengthy message to Congress, Carter called for a quadrupling of energy supplied by solar power and other renewable sources of energy by the year 2000. Currently, these sources account for about 5 percent of the energy consumed in the United States, the bulk of it in the form of hydroelectric power.
According to administration officials, about one-third of the 20 percent goal would come from direct solar power, with the rest coming from hydroelectric power, the conversion of waste products into energy, the use of wind to generate power and other renewable sources of energy.
To reach that goal, the president proposed to Congress a series of steps, including new tax incentives, and linked funding of the measures to passage of the admininstration's proposed "windfall profits" tax on the oil industry and creation of an "energy security fund" for development of alternative energy sources.
The proposal to fund the solar energy bank and pay for the tax incentives from the energy security fund drew criticism from environmental groups and other solar energy advocates, which otherwise praised Carter's message. These groups argued that solar energy is so important that measures to encourage it should be funded directly and not be contingent on passage of other legislation such as the "windfall profits" tax.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), a strong solar energy advocate, said that the energy security fund "is so controversial it may not pass, and these [solar] initiatives should not go down with it."
But the White House clearly had its own goals in mind in linking the solar proposals to the energy security fund, calculating that this would increase support for passage of the "windfall profits" tax, the proceeds of which will go into the fund.
Stuart E. Eizenstat, the president's chief domestic policy adviser, refused to speculate on what would happen shoud the tax be defeated in Congress. He predicted flatly that it will pass.
Eizenstat also dismissed questions on the possibility that Congress, in structuring the fund, might earmark large amounts of money to subsidize poor families facing higher energy costs, thereby leaving insufficient funds to pay for the solar proposals.
"Congress wants the great bulk of the funds to go into energy development," he said. "Our fight will be to keep enough funds for the poor and for mass transit."
The steps Carter proposed yesterday include:
Creation of a solar bank with a funding level the first year of $100 million. The bank would provide interest subsidies to owners and builders of residential and commercial buildings that install solar equipment. Officials estimated that more than 100,000 new and retrofitted solar units would be financed by the bank its first year.
A new 15 percent investment tax credit for the use of solar equipment to provide process hear for industry.
A 20 percent tax credit, up to $2,000 per home, for new homes using so-called passive solar designs - solar equipment that is built into a structure to collect and store heat.
A 15 percent tax credit for the purchase and installation of airtight woodburning stoves in principal residences.
A permanent exemption from the 4-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax for gasohol. CAPTION: Picture, President Carter dedicating White House solar system: "There is no longer any question that solar energy is feasible and cost effective." By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post