A new federal bill may extend tax credits for solar heaters added to commercial pools.

In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced the Renewable Energy Incentive Act. Its main purpose is to extend the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund solar-energy developments through 2012, and to include public utility providers in the funding.

Senate Bill 2899 also proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include commercial swimming pools in an existing solar tax credit currently allowed for homes and buildings.

If the language passes, a 30 percent credit will be granted to commercial-pool owners who outfit their facilities with solar heating that meets the standards listed in the IRC (1986). The credit will apply to pools updated after the law’s passage. Currently, the code pointedly states that the existing tax credit may not be given for pools of any kind.

Congress excluded pools because they’re considered luxury items. However, in a statement from Feinstein, it was noted that alternative heating on commercial pools would have great environmental benefits.

“Approximately 189,000 commercial pools nationwide use fossil fuel or electricity to heat an estimated 27.25 billion gallons of water,” she said. “If the heating systems were replaced with solar water heating systems, there would be 1.23 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided annually, which is equivalent to taking 237,000 cars off the road.”

If it passes, the bill could have a profound impact on the industry, said Michael Orr, owner of service and solar-installation firm Michael Orr Solar in Manteca, Calif.

Solar systems generally pay for themselves in less than five years, Orr said, but the substantial upfront cost prevents many customers from signing on the dotted line. Recently, he bid on a solar system for a large commercial pool and placed the cost at close to $100,000. The 30 percent credit could help close the deal, Orr said.

“I have a number of proposals that I have had out for a year or so where the people are just not [incentivized] enough to put them in,” he explained. “But a 30 percent tax credit is going to be a big deal for helping the community pools get those solar [systems] put on. All who can put solar on will do it, I’m sure of it — because they know the cost of gas for heating those pools.”