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Solar Could Generate 15% of Power by 2020, If US Ends Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Solar power technologies could generate 15 percent of America's power in 10 years, but only if Washington levels the playing field on subsidies, a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says.

That means either rolling back fossil fuel subsidies, as President Obama proposed earlier this year, or increasing subsidies for clean energy, the association says.

Fossil fuels received $72 billion in total federal subsidies from 2002 to 2008, keeping prices artificially low, according to figures from the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). About 98 percent of that went to conventional energy sources, namely coal and oil, leading to more emissions. The rest, $2.3 billion, was pumped into a new technology to trap and store carbon dioxide spewed by coal plants.

During that same period, solar got less than $1 billion, according to the SEIA, a trade group representing 1,100 solar companies across the nation.

To compete and gain market share — and stop global warming — this inconsistency "must reverse itself immediately," said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.

There had been hints of this happening.

In September, the G20 group of the largest 20 economies agreed to phase out the $300 billion spent worldwide in fossil fuel subsidies "over the medium term" to combat climate change.

But neither the Obama administration nor Congress has yet to take steps to comply with the G20 commitment.

For solar to have a shot, the world cannot wait, Resch told reporters at the Copenhagen climate talks this month.

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