Pa. solar-rebate funding approved

April 14, 2009

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s long-stalled solar-rebate program for homeowners and small businesses will soon have funding – an infusion of cash that could result in the creation of scores of “green” jobs.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority board voted unanimously yesterday to borrow $30 million to get the Pennsylvania Sunshine Program under way.

Enacted in July as part of Gov. Rendell’s $650 million Alternative Energy Funding Act, Sunshine is expected to provide rebates of 35 percent to help cover the cost of buying solar-power systems.

“Time is of the essence,” said George Cornelius, chairman of the seven-member authority board and the state’s acting secretary of community and economic development.

The DEPartment of Environmental Protection, which will administer the Sunshine Program, expects rebate applications to be available within two weeks.

“We think this is the front edge of a huge development of renewable energy in Pennsylvania,” said Dan Griffiths, deputy secretary at the DEP.

Those are inspiring words to Jeremy Klotz, 44, of South Philadelphia, who traveled to the state capital yesterday along with 30 other solar contractors to urge the authority to approve funding for Sunshine.

Klotz was laid off three weeks ago from a solar company that had hired him months ago in anticipation of Sunshine funds that never came.

Solar-contracting companies throughout the state had hundreds of thousands of dollars in installation jobs and planned hires on hold because homeowners and small businesses were reluctant to commit to solar projects without assurance that state help to offset the cost was, indeed, on the way. An average 5-kilowatt residential system costs $35,000 to $40,000.

“If this [funding] had passed, I might be working right now,” Klotz told the authority board prior to yesterday’s vote.

A quick polling of his colleagues in the audience revealed at least 350 installation projects on hold because of uncertainty over when – if ever – Sunshine funds would become available, Ron Celentano, a principal with Celentano Energy Services in Wyndmoor, told the authority board.

 

‘Dire need’

“We are in dire need of this money,” said Celentano, who is also vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association.

Rising from the back row, a soft-spoken Wes Checkeye, a 24-year-old part-time solar installer at Heat Shed Inc. near Quakertown, told the board he was “looking forward to a solar future – if that’s possible.”

In all, the legislature allotted $100 million for Sunshine. The Commonwealth Financing Authority, an independent agency established to administer Pennsylvania’s stimulus packages, anticipates issuing a number of bonds over the next few years to fund the Sunshine program entirely, as well as other alternative-energy programs the state intends to launch.

The authority intends to go to market to finance Sunshine’s first funding infusion the first week of May, said executive director Scott Dunkelberger.

 

‘All those green jobs’

That was a good-enough assurance for Kira Costanza of Collegeville-based Sunpower Builders, which has about 40 contracts with potential customers sitting in a drawer and about a half-dozen planned hires that have been in limbo.

“We’re thrilled,” Costanza said of yesterday’s funding vote. “This is going to create all of those green jobs everybody’s been talking about.”

Within a month, that will mean the rehiring of an administrative assistant, an electrician, and a plumber at Open Sky Energy Systems in Swarthmore, said Michael Matotek, chief operating officer.

The company was formed a month or two after the legislature approved the Sunshine program. With rebates still unavailable by January, Matotek said, “we had to let everybody go.”

After the vote, he told Klotz he’d like him to consider working at Open Sky.

Said an elated Klotz: “I’m going to go celebrate my daughter’s 13th birthday.”

Our perspective:

The long awaited door has been opened. Governor Rendell approved this measure in July 2008, from there it had to be defined.

This is a small but necessary steps. The bill is designed for residential and small businesses. It will not prove to be the be all…end all.

PA has to take significant steps if it wishes to jump start a program needed to address the growing demand for energy. We are faced with a dilemna. Demand is growing   1 1/2% a year. We are unable to meet this growing demand in the next 8 to 10 years with our existing facilities.

I do not believe that people will accept rolling brown outs as a possible solution to meeting this growing demand. Incentives are needed to open the gates to larger facilities / businesses. Providing a ROI that will not only make sense but also allow us to meet this demand.

Let us know your thoughts?

Should you be interested in knowing more of how to set up the proper financial structure needed to take advantage of Federal and State Incentives…email george@hbsadvantage.com 

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