It was a home run, a grand slam, a dream come true or the biggest birthday present ever for the solar industry, depending on whom you spoke with.
But these are not normal times, and the reality of the global economy collided with what should have been a day in the sun for solar companies.
President Bush signed off on an eight-year extension of solar energy tax incentives last week, providing the long-sought stability for the burgeoning industry. A $2,000 reimbursement cap for home solar projects was wiped away and utilities get a tax credit for the first time, too.
Before the Champagne went flat, however, solar's Wall Street nosedive had outpaced the overall market drop.
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“The sector is being driven by macro forces right now and not by company fundamentals,” said Jesse Pichel, an analyst with Piper Jaffray.
First Solar Inc. shares have fallen nearly 30 percent since the closing bell the day before the vote. Shares of Ja Solar Holdings Co., GT Solar International Inc. and SunPower Corp. are down more than 30 percent, and Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. fell nearly 20 percent.
The renewable industry depends on equity as well as credit to complete projects, and the credit market has frozen. Without access to capital, companies may cut back on growth and look to Asia to produce solar panels, Pichel said.
There are signs of scaling back.
BP Solar this week scrapped a $97 million expansion of its Frederick, Md., plant, citing intense global competition. And China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. said it has no plans to boost manufacturing capacity once it reaches 600 megawatts next year.
Wall Street for years has worried about an eventual oversupply of solar modules, but Pichel said that hasn't been a worry of his.
“If you do get oversupply, that just means that the panel price is going to come down,” Pichel said. “And if the panel price comes down, it's going to be that much more attractive to put up solar. So you should get an elastic response.”
Many people are already looking beyond the financial meltdown.
The Solar Electric Power Association expects the renewable energy bill will create more than 440,000 jobs and generate at least $325 billion in private investment.
Previously, a utility's only viable financial option to go solar was to have the plants owned and operated by independent power producers, which in turn sell the electricity to the utility, said Julia Hamm, SEPA's executive director.
Under the new bill, utilities can own and operate their own solar plants.
Hamm said utility-scale solar will grow despite the economic downturn, as most U.S. states are mandating increased use of renewable energy.