On October 3, President Bush signed a bill that authorizes the government to buy — and later try to resell — bad mortgages and securities backed by them from banks and other financial institutions around the country. The measure also contains about $18 billion in energy tax credits, which initially were rejected by the House only a week ago. The tax credits will go to businesses and residents who invest in renewable energy, from building and operating solar and wind power plants to installing small wind turbines on residential properties. Without an extension, the tax credits would have expired on Dec. 31.

"By passing this bill, Congress has finally given the solar energy industry 'policy certainty' that will attract investment, expand manufacturing, and lower the cost of solar energy to consumers," says Roger Efird, Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) chairman and president of Suntech America, San Francisco. "This will allow companies like mine to move forward with expansion plans to serve the growing U.S. market."

The bill includes production-tax credits for renewable-energy power plants that already are generating electricity. The legislation extends the production-tax break by one year for wind and by two years for solar, biomass, and hydropower. In addition, the bill opens up $800 million worth of bonds to pay for power plants using wind, biomass, geothermal, garbage and other sources, and doles out $2,500 to $7,500 rebates for drivers who buy plug-in electric cars and trucks.

Residents and businesses that want to install solar panels on their properties also would benefit from the bill, which extends investment-tax credits for eight years and eliminates the current $2,000 cap on the credits. The new program also will allow homeowners who install small wind equipment and heat pumps to take advantage of the credits, but will cap the incentive at $4,000 for wind and $2,000 for heat pumps.