By Kelley Atherton

Even though Earth Day has come and gone, that doesn't mean we should can stop thinking about the Earth.

Preserving the planet is also something to think about for those wanting to make a lucrative investment this year.

Eco-investments are expected to reach into the billions of dollars this year. They also provide hefty tax breaks for businesses and individuals.

Sustainable materials are being used more commonly in construction. The industrial revolution gave us the urban landscape and an economic boom around the turn of the 20th century.

It turns out that industry has been helping to slowly warm the Earth, changing the climate. Green building may be the next industrial revolution that whips the economy back into shape. Buying sustainable materials can both pump money into the economy and save on energy costs.

Solar panels can harvest energy and cut down on coal consumption. There are two types of solar retrofits: one that collects and heats water, and another that collects air, heats it and distributes it throughout the building. Photovoltaic panels have hundreds of silicon cells that collect sunlight and turn it into electricity.

Utility companies are starting to get into the mix, too. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to create 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017. To make this happen, the California Public Utilities Commission, through its California Solar Initiative, offers $2.2 billion in incentives for residential and commercial buildings.

Those who set up solar systems can get $2.50 cash back per watt if the system is connected to the local power company, which for Del Norte is Pacific Power. There's also a one-time federal tax credit for 30 percent of installation costs.

Wind and water power can also be purchased to reduce dependence on coal. Other investments include low-flow toilets and shower heads and using recycled building materials or sustainable sources like certified wood, bamboo or linoleum.

Congress is working on the Clean Energy Stimulus Act of 2008. It passed the Senate, but will probably be tweaked a bit in the House.

The bill would extend the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credits through 2009 for facilities that use wind, biofuel, geothermal energy, solar energy, irrigation power, landfill gas and trash combustion for electricity. This credit is good for 1.5-cent per kilowatt-hour for 10 years.

The solar and fuel cell energy investment tax credit would be extended through 2016, giving back 30 percent of system set-up costs for homeowners and businesses.

A property tax credit for 30 percent of solar panels or retrofits purchases and 10 percent credit for home energy efficient improvements would also be extended through 2009.

Businesses would be able to deduct $2.25 per square foot for design and installation of energy efficient systems. A credit for large appliances like dishwashers, clothes washers and refrigerators would be extended through 2010.

Lastly, the bill would authorize $400 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds through 2009. This essentially is an interest-free loan for rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities energy projects.

The government is looking for any way to boost the economy. Green building can do that, help the individual or business and help preserve the Earth. It's a win-win-win situation.