U.S. Solar Projects Rose 67 Percent in Fourth Quarter, SEIA Says

Installation of solar panels in the U.S. surged as much as 67 percent in the fourth quarter as developers raced to qualify for an expiring federal incentive program and panel prices fell 16 percent, a trade group said.

Developers installed 700 megawatts to 750 megawatts of rooftop and ground-mounted systems in the quarter, compared with 450 megawatts in the third quarter, according to preliminary estimates from the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installations this year may grow by 3,000 megawatts to 4,000 megawatts, up from about 1,800 megawatts in 2011, if a U.S. Treasury Department incentive known as the 1603 program is renewed, said Rhone Resch, the trade group’s chief executive officer.

Last year “was an incredible year and 2012 could be even better if Congress extends the grant program,” Resch said in an interview today.

President Barack Obama included 1603 in the proposed federal budget released yesterday and SEIA is lobbying to have it attached to the payroll tax extension Congress is debating now.

The 1603 program offered cash grants of as much as 30 percent of development costs for renewable energy projects.

The grant program was enacted in 2009 to encourage investors to back renewable-energy projects. It’s helped develop more than $24 billion of power plants fueled by wind, solar and other renewable sources, Resch said.

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