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Green Growth: Are Feed-in Tariffs the Answer?

President Barack Obama has touted a robust green energy sector as our best chance of jumpstarting the economy, putting Americans back to work, and securing our nation's standing in a post-carbon world. Yet the renewable energy industry has been among the hardest hit by the current downturn. How can America revive this vital sector, transforming it into an engine of economic growth? The Washington Monthly has found a promising answer in an unlikely place: Gainesville, Florida, which is in the midst of a solar-power boom, thanks to a bold incentive known as a feed-in tariff. Under this policy, the local power company is required to buy renewable energy from all producers, no matter how small, at rates tied to the cost of production. This means anyone with a cluster of solar cells on their roof can sell the power they produce at a profit. While Gainesville is the first to take the leap, other U.S. cities and at least eleven U.S. states are moving toward adopting the policy. There is also a bill for a nationwide feed-in tariff before Congress. The surge of interest stems from the dramatic results the policy has delivered in other countries, most notably Germany, where it has given rise to the worlds most vibrant green energy sector. In America, however, an aging electrical grid and fractured utility market could make feed-in tariffs problematic.
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