As reported By Christopher Martin Bloomberg News 3/21/12

NEW YORK – U.S. solar developers are luring cash at record rates from investors ranging from Warren Buffett to Google and KKR by offering returns on projects four times those available for Treasury securities.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., together with the biggest Internet search company, private equity companies, and insurers MetLife Inc. and John Hancock Life Insurance Co., poured more than $500 million into renewable energy in the last year. That’s the most ever for companies outside the club of banks and specialist lenders that traditionally back solar energy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

Once so risky that only government backing could draw private capital, solar projects now are making returns of about 15 percent, according to Stanford University’s Center for Energy Policy and Finance. That has attracted a wider community of investors eager to cash in on earnings stronger than those for infrastructure projects such as toll roads and pipelines. “A solar power project with a long-term sales agreement could be viewed as a machine that generates revenue,” said Marty Klepper, an attorney at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, which helped arrange a solar deal for Buffett. “It’s an attractive investment for any firm, not just those in energy.”

With 30-year Treasuries yielding about 3.4 percent, investors are seeking safe places to park their money for years at a higher return. Solar energy fits the bill, with predictable cash flows guaranteed by contract for two decades or more. Those deals may be even more lucrative because many were signed before the cost of solar panels plunged 50 percent last year.

Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. agreed to buy the Topaz Solar Farm in California from First Solar Inc. on Dec. 7. The project’s development budget is estimated at $2.4 billion and it may generate a 16.3 percent return on investment by selling power to PG&E Corp. at about $150 a megawatt-hour through a 25-year contract, according to New Energy Finance calculations. It will have 550 megawatts of capacity and is expected to go into operation in 2015, making it one of the world’s biggest photovoltaic plants.

“After tax, you’re looking at returns in the 10 percent to 15 percent range” for solar projects, said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Stanford center. “The beauty of solar is, once you make the capital investment, you’ve got free fuel and very low operating costs.”

The long-term nature of solar power purchase deals makes them similar to some bonds. And because a solar farm is a tangible asset, these investments also function much like those for infrastructure projects, with cash flows comparable to toll roads, bridges and pipelines, said Stefan Heck, a director at McKinsey & Co. in New York who leads the firm’s clean-tech work. Once a project starts producing power, investors can earn a return that’s “higher than most bonds,” he said. “There are a lot of pension funds with long-term horizons that are very interested in this space.”

Governments remain the biggest backers of the solar industry; President Obama’s administration suffered criticism for investing in Solyndra, a solar manufacturer that went bankrupt last year. Worldwide, the U.S. Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank was the biggest asset-finance lender for renewable energy companies in the past year, arranging 12 deals worth $11.2 billion, according to New Energy Finance. The Brazilian development bank BNDES, Bank of America, and Banco Santander followed.

In 2009, solar technology was so unfamiliar that few banks would back projects that required billions in upfront investment and wouldn’t begin producing revenue for years, Klepper said. The biggest financiers for the industry that year were Madrid- based Santander, HSH Nordbank of Hamburg and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria of Bilbao, Spain, New Energy Finance said.

That year, the Energy Department began funding a program to guarantee loans for solar farms and other renewable energy projects that supported almost $35 billion in financing before winding down in September. The government’s endorsement assuaged investors’ concerns and built up a bigger community of people who understand how to make money from solar deals, said Arno Harris, chief executive officer of Sharp Corp.’s renewable power development unit Recurrent Energy.

“Solar is now bankable,” Harris said. “When solar was perceived as more risky, it required a premium,” and now it’s “becoming part of a much broader capital market.”

Long-term power-purchase contracts are the key to making solar a reliable investment, Harris said. Utilities in sunny states such as California, Arizona, and Nevada have agreed to pay premiums for electricity generated by sunshine.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/homepage/20120321_Solar_returns_beat_Treasuries__drawing_investors_from_Buffett_to_Google.html#ixzz1plWe9SD0
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Solar makes sense

May 31, 2011

As reported in Philadelphia Inquire May 30, 2011
With Pennsylvania
boasting the nation’s second largest number of solar-industry jobs, state
officials would be foolish to let the sun set on such a nascent but promising
industry. But that could happen due to a temporary mismatch between solar-energy
financing and market demand.

The construction of more than 4,000 solar projects has been a roaring
success, responsible for generating several thousand jobs at 600 solar
businesses. Growing that industry from scratch, with state and federal aid, also
boosted the use of nonpolluting and renewable energy. That will be particularly
helpful in meeting summer’s peak demand.

Yet, the boom in solar projects has outpaced the amount of solar energy
utilities are required to buy under the state’s alternative-energy rules. That
has depressed the value of solar-energy credits needed to provide a return on
photovoltaic solar systems, which have a steep, up-front price tag.

The best way for state officials to spur solar to new heights would be to
boost the modest solar-energy standard – now far lower than neighboring states,
at only 0.5 percent – by 2021. But last year, that idea ran into strong
opposition from Exelon and other utilities, coal producers, and business groups
– and a certain Republican candidate for governor.

Fortunately, a fellow Republican, State Rep. Chris Ross from Chester County,
unveiled a legislative proposal Tuesday that should be more to Gov. Corbett’s
liking. Ross would accelerate the amount of solar energy utilities are required
to purchase for the next few years, but leave the overall standard at just 0.5
percent. He would also follow other states by barring out-of-state solar
producers contributing to the solar glut in Pennsylvania.

The Ross proposal amounts to a tweak, but one that could be critical to
maintaining the state’s foothold in solar energy. Corbett and Republican
legislative leaders could fall back on tea-party ideological antagonism toward
so-called government mandates – or they could prove themselves progressive
enough to embrace a modest plan that makes sense for the state’s 21st-century
economy.

The California-based solar leasing firm Sungevity announced a deal on Monday with home improvement giant Lowe’s that could make obtaining a personalized estimate for installing solar panels a push-button affair at Lowe’s outlets.

The deal gives Lowe’s just under a 20 percent stake in Sungevity, according to a solar industry source, though neither company would discuss specific dollar figures.

Under the agreement, scheduled to launch in 30 Lowe’s stores in California in July, customers will be able to access kiosks equipped with Sugevity’s iQuote system, a Web-based application that allows homeowners to simply enter their address and receive a firm installation estimate within 24 hours, eliminating the expense of an on-site visit.

The system combines aerial and satellite image analysis with research by Sungevity engineers at the company’s Oakland headquarters to assess the geometry of a home’s rooftop, its disposition to the sun at different times of day and year and any potential occlusions presented by nearby vegetation or built objects.

In addition to an installation estimate, customers can also get a visual rendering of their home with solar panels installed. And if interested parties provide information on typical power usage, such as an account number or past electric bills, the iQuote system can estimate potential savings expected from using the equipment.

The iQuote system can already be used online, and the company’s founder, Danny Kennedy, estimated that roughly 25,000 users had taken it for a test drive, though only about 1,500 of those had been converted to sales.

The deal with Lowe’s, Kennedy said, could help Sungevity — a petite player in the solar leasing market compared to bigger players like SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif., or San Francisco-based SunRun, which raised $200 million in financing earlier this month — significantly expand its reach.

“This will help us to get in front of thousands more customers, in front of middle America,” Kennedy told The Huffington Post. “We’ll be taking it to the ‘burbs, as it were.”

Despite tough economic times and often uncertain economic incentives, a number of analyses predict a boom year for solar power in 2011.

A report published in December by IDC Energy Insights, a market research firm based in Framingham, Mass., estimated following a healthy 2010, the solar market in North America could well see two gigawatts of solar power installations this year.

Jay Holman, the report’s lead analyst, told The Huffington Post that those numbers had been revised somewhat, but that 2011 was still expected to bring in 1.6 gigawatts of new solar installations, roughly double the 2010 total.

Part of the reason for America’s interest in solar energy may be a decline in the robust incentives the once drew a deluge of equipment and installations to the European market, particularly countries like Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy, Holman said. Those countries have begun to scale back their subsidies, forcing companies to look to other markets.

Meanwhile, federal tax incentives, including a 30 percent tax cash grant extended through the end of 2011, have helped keep solar alive. Several states have healthy incentives in place as well, including the eight states where the Sungevity/Lowes deal will eventually be rolled out: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Holman also said solar leasing companies like Sungevity, SunRun and Solar City, which retain ownership of the equipment while reducing or, in many cases, eliminating the up-front installation costs, also help drive the expansion of solar power.

“Obviously, we’re obsessed with being customer-focused,” said Kennedy. “We hope that this deal will make going solar as easy as shopping for light bulbs.”

By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

Posted Jan. 13, 2011

A coalition of electrical-power interests is encouraging New Jersey Gov. Christie to veto a controversial bill that would subsidize development of a Gloucester County power plant that they say would unsettle the region’s energy markets.

The bill’s sponsors said the legislation approved Tuesday by the New Jersey Legislature would lower energy rates. But opponents, including power generators such as Exelon Corp. and large industrial consumers, call it an anticompetitive sweetheart deal that will cost consumers in the long run.

“We cannot afford an energy surcharge to guarantee billions of dollars of revenue to a few select developers,” said George M. Waidelich, vice president of energy operations for Safeway Inc., which says it now spends about $2 million a year on electricity for its five Genuardi’s stores in South Jersey.

The measure would provide a guaranteed long-term income for developers of several large power plants. The legislation was known as the “LS Power Bill” because its initial aim was to provide guarantees for LS Power Development L.L.C. to build a giant natural-gas power plant in West Deptford, the hometown of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester).

Tom Hoatson, director of regulatory affairs for LS Power, said the guarantees were necessary to obtain financing to construct the 640-megawatt plant along the Delaware River, which would cost from $800 million to $1 billion.

Hoatson said the bill would provide the New Brunswick company “an opportunity to compete with other generators.” The plant would employ up to 500 people to build and about 25 people to operate.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the bill was under review. Legislative sources said the governor was expected to sign it because his office was consulted in drafting amendments that addressed some of the administration’s concerns.

In the arcane world of wholesale electrical markets, the New Jersey bill has attracted intense attention because its opponents say it would turn back the clock on years of efforts to open electrical-power markets to more competition.

But supporters of the legislation say those markets, which are managed by regional power-grid operator PJM Interconnection Inc., have failed to lower prices for N.J. residents.

And they say that many of the interests opposed to the N.J. legislation are incumbent power generators like Exelon Corp. and Public Service Enterprise Group of Newark, which stand to gain by keeping new power generators out of the market.

“I don’t think it’s a system that encourages building new generation to keep prices down,” said Stefanie Brand, the New Jersey Rate Counsel, the state’s consumer advocate.

“The market is not a true free market,” she said. “It’s a constructed market that was created by PJM, and as far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t work.”

N.J. officials complain that the Garden State has suffered more than its western neighbors because it has paid up to $1.9 billion a year in extra capacity and congestion charges that PJM imposes on power transmitted into the state.

Lee A. Solomon, a Christie appointee who is president of the N.J. Board of Public Utilities, told PJM in December that “it is incumbent upon New Jersey to promote new generation in locations where it is needed the most to ensure reliability and to control costs.”

Sweeney, whose West Deptford hometown would host the LS plant, introduced the legislation that would allow the board to sign long-term contracts with several power generators to provide up to 2,000 megawatts of electricity at guaranteed rates. If market rates fall below the threshold, N.J. ratepayers would pick up the tab.

“Consumers have been paying inflated capacity charges,” said Derek Roseman, Sweeney’s spokesman. “This is a chance to reverse that. How can that not be a good thing for consumers?”

The Compete Coalition, a Washington lobbying group that promotes open electrical markets, has appealed to Christie’s antitax sentiments by branding the bill the “Energy Tax of 2011.”

John E. Shelk, president of the Electric Power Supply Association, testified in December that the bill would “artificially depress” rates in the short term, but would discourage other generators from investing in the future.

Shelk said the bill likely would be challenged because it would interfere with federally sanctioned wholesale power markets.

Public Service Enterprise Group, the politically powerful Newark energy company that operates the PSE&G utility, announced its opposition to the measure last week.

Anne Hoskins, the company’s senior vice president for public affairs, said the state’s intervention in the past requiring utilities to enter into long-term supply contracts had “disastrous results.”

In the next six years, PSE&G will pay $1 billion for the remaining costs of the long-term contracts, she said. And Atlantic City Electric recently received approval to raise its customers’ bills 5 percent to recover the costs of its out-of-market contracts.

“Subsidies are a slippery slope,” she said, “and will drive away other nonsubsidized private investment in New Jersey.”


As reported by Energy Information Administration (EIA) Logo - Need Help? 202-586-8800

Shale gas refers to natural gas that is trapped within shale formations. Shales are fine-grained sedimentary rocks that can be rich sources of petroleum and natural gas. Over the past decade, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has allowed access to large volumes of shale gas that were previously uneconomical to produce. The production of natural gas from shale formations has rejuvenated the natural gas industry in the United States.

Did You Know?

Sedimentary rocks are rocks formed by the accumulation of sediments at the Earth’s surface and within bodies of water. Common sedimentary rocks include sandstone, limestone, and shale.

U.S. Natural Gas Supply, 1990-2035
Chart showing U.S. natural gas supply, 1990-2035. Source, EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2010

Did You Know?

Shale gas in 2009 made up 14% of total U.S. natural gas supply. Production of shale gas is expected to continue to increase, and constitute 45% of U.S. total natural gas supply in 2035, as projected in the EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2011.

Does the U.S. Have Abundant Shale Gas Resources?

Of the natural gas consumed in the United States in 2009, 87% was produced domestically; thus, the supply of natural gas is not as dependent on foreign producers as is the supply of crude oil, and the delivery system is less subject to interruption. The availability of large quantities of shale gas will further allow the United States to consume a predominantly domestic supply of gas.

According to the EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2011, the United States possesses 2,552 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of potential natural gas resources. Natural gas from shale resources, considered uneconomical just a few years ago, accounts for 827 Tcf of this resource estimate, more than double the estimate published last year. At the 2009 rate of U.S. consumption (about 22.8 Tcf per year), 2,552 Tcf of natural gas is enough to supply approximately 110 years of use. Shale gas resource and production estimates increased significantly between the 2010 and 2011 Outlook reports and are likely to increase further in the future.

Where is Shale Gas Found?

Shale gas is found in shale “plays,” which are shale formations containing significant accumulations of natural gas and which share similar geologic and geographic properties. A decade of production has come from the Barnett Shale play in Texas. Experience and information gained from developing the Barnett Shale have improved the efficiency of shale gas development around the country. Another important play is the Marcellus Shale in the eastern United States. Surveyors and geologists identify suitable well locations in areas with potential for economical gas production by using both surface-level observation techniques and computer-generated maps of the subsurface.

Map of Shale Gas Plays for the Lower 48 States
Source: U.S. Shale Plays Map, http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/rpd/shale_gas.pdf

How is Shale Gas Produced?

Two major drilling techniques are used to produce shale gas. Horizontal drilling is used to provide greater access to the gas trapped deep in the producing formation. First, a vertical well is drilled to the targeted rock formation. At the desired depth, the drill bit is turned to bore a well that stretches through the reservoir horizontally, exposing the well to more of the producing shale.

Hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking” or “hydrofracking”) is a technique in which water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into the well to unlock the hydrocarbons trapped in shale formations by opening cracks (fractures) in the rock and allowing natural gas to flow from the shale into the well. When used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing enables gas producers to extract shale gas at reasonable cost. Without these techniques, natural gas does not flow to the well rapidly, and commercial quantities cannot be produced from shale.

Schematic Geology of Natural Gas Resources

Graphic showing the schematic geology of natural gas resources
Source: modified from U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 0113-01.

How is Shale Gas Production Different from Conventional Gas Production?

Conventional gas reservoirs are created when natural gas migrates toward the Earth’s surface from an organic-rich source formation into highly permeable reservoir rock, where it is trapped by an overlying layer of impermeable rock. In contrast, shale gas resources form within the organic-rich shale source rock. The low permeability of the shale greatly inhibits the gas from migrating to more permeable reservoir rocks. Without horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, shale gas production would not be economically feasible because the natural gas would not flow from the formation at high enough rates to justify the cost of drilling.

Diagram of a Typical Hydraulic Fracturing Operation

Diagram of a Typical Hydraulic Fracturing Operation
Source: ProPublica, http://www.propublica.org/special/hydraulic-fracturing-national

What Are the Environmental Issues Associated with Shale Gas?

Natural gas is cleaner-burning than coal or oil. The combustion of natural gas emits significantly lower levels of key pollutants, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, than does the combustion of coal or oil. When used in efficient combined-cycle power plants, natural gas combustion can emit less than half as much CO2 as coal combustion, per unit of energy released.

However, there are some potential environmental issues that are also associated with the production of shale gas. Shale gas drilling has significant water supply issues. The drilling and fracturing of wells requires large amounts of water. In some areas of the country, significant use of water for shale gas production may affect the availability of water for other uses, and can affect aquatic habitats.

Drilling and fracturing also produce large amounts of wastewater, which may contain dissolved chemicals and other contaminants that require treatment before disposal or reuse. Because of the quantities of water used, and the complexities inherent in treating some of the chemicals used, wastewater treatment and disposal is an important and challenging issue. If mismanaged, the hydraulic fracturing fluid can be released by spills, leaks, or various other exposure pathways. The use of potentially hazardous chemicals in the fracturing fluid means that any release of this fluid can result in the contamination of surrounding areas, including sources of drinking water, and can negatively impact natural habitats.

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA – November 18, 2010 (WPVI) — When you think of the Eagles you think GREEN – and we’re not just talking about the

The Eagles organization has long been committed to the environment and energy sustainability. Well, today the Eagles will take a bold move when they make Lincoln Financial Field the first major sports stadium in the world to generate its own electricity.

In the coming months the Linc will be outfitted with approximately eighty 20-foot tall spiral shaped wind turbines on the top rim of the stadium and 2,500 solar panels on the façade. Along with the state of the art power system, energy will be generated on-site.

The project will cost an estimated $30-million, but the Eagles expect to save an estimated $60-million in energy costs in the coming years.

The stadium will generate enough electricity to power 26,000 homes – far more than needed to power the stadium. So, the Eagles will be selling excess electricity back to the local power grid.

Two hundred people are expected to be employed to design and install the system. Six hundred more jobs are expected to be created because the Eagles are committed to using people from the local community through contractors and vendors.

More information on the project is scheduled to be released later today at Lincoln Financial Field by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

As reported in NJ BIZ

The Garden State’s status as a solar-energy leader will get a major boost Wednesday, when officials break ground on what will be the largest solar energy farm in the Northeast.

Con Edison Development, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Inc., and Texas-based Panda Power Funds plan to build a 20-megawatt solar farm on a 100-acre site in Pilesgrove. The installation, expected to go online in May 2011, will feature 71,400 solar panels and cost between $85 million and $90 million.

solar

A rendering of the solar farm, which will be the largest in the Northeast.

Con Edison Development and Panda announced their intent to partner on solar projects in April.

Steve Tessum, vice president of east region management at Panda and manager of the Pilesgrove project, said South Jersey was chosen as the site in part because of the state’s support of solar energy.

“We did look at other states,” Tessum said. “Quite frankly, the regulatory climate in New Jersey is friendly to somebody who wants to own and develop a solar-power utility.”

The farm will be connected directly to the electrical grid via the Atlantic City Electric distribution system, said Mark Noyes, vice president of Con Edison Development.

Noyes said the arrangement with Panda is a 50-50 partnership: Panda is taking the lead in development, Con Edison will take the lead in operations and energy management, and construction will be split.

“The reason it makes sense to partner with Panda is, much like our background, they’re developers and they know how to develop projects, whether natural gas and oil, wind, solar,” Noyes said. “The development expertise is really what drives the development.”

Noyes said the property had originally been slated for the development of 67 homes, each with its own septic tank.

“The town opposed that type of taxing, from an environmental and economic standpoint,” Noyes said. “The construction of those homes never got through the planning board, so we were able to go in and acquire that land from the local player for this solar farm.”

Tessum said the solar farm doesn’t require any municipal infrastructure development, as the housing plot would have.

Con Edison Development said the installation is expected to generate enough electricity to power 5,100 homes.

E-mail Jared Kaltwasser at jkaltwasser@njbiz.com

Solar Battle Heats Up

September 21, 2010

New Jersey has set aggressive goals for its solar industry. The question now is can it afford to meet them.
By Tom Johnson, August 31 in Energy & Environment |6 Comments

By most accounts New Jersey’s solar industry has enjoyed a remarkable run in recent years, installing up to 180 megawatts of capacity, enough to vault it at one point to behind only California in the number of solar installations.

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Clean energy advocates credit the solar industry with creating more than 2,000 jobs, a number expected to climb to 3,500 by the end of the year. And the more than 200 firms involved in the industry boost their argument that a green economy can only bolster New Jersey’s prospects for growth.

Yet the industry is facing tough questions from the Christie administration. The concern is cost: How expensive will it be to meet aggressive goals to increase New Jersey’s reliance on solar energy, a situation some argue is driving up the price of electric power in a state that already has high energy expenditures.

The Solar Balancing Act

The focus on solar occurs as the state Board of Public Utilities is trying to pinpoint ways to reduce utility bills while complying with legislation that increases solar energy goals dramatically.

By 2026, a bill passed this past January directs the state to have solar capacity of 5,000 megawatts, roughly equivalent to the output of five nuclear power plants. At the same time, funding for clean energy programs is being sharply curtailed and the agency is rethinking the state’s energy master plan and its ambitious goals for renewable energy.

What is worrisome to skeptics is the cost of solar energy today is still much higher than conventional energy. They note that solar renewable energy certificates on the spot market sell for around $670, or the equivalent of 60 cents per kilowatt hour. (Solar certificates are the price owners of solar systems earn for electricity they generate.) In comparison, consumers pay about 11 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity generated by conventional power plants.

Supply and Demand

Many solar advocates are frustrated because the debate is losing sight of the benefits the sector has delivered to New Jersey. They concede the price for the solar certificates is too high, but argue it is a function of demand outstripping supply and insist prices will drop when supply and demand are more in balance.

“There’s been not enough credit to the local solar industry that has developed,’’ said Fred Zalcman, director of regulatory affairs in eastern states for SunEdison, a large solar firm. “It’s created a lot of local jobs.’’

Others are blunter. “We believe solar is falling out of favor with this administration,’’ said Dolores Phillips, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, noting only $3.2 million is allocated to the solar residential program in a straw budget proposal for next year. “Too many discussions are taking place behind closed doors.’’

Developing Solar Responsibly

To some, though, the debate is timely. If New Jersey is going to pursue aggressive solar targets, then it must do it responsibly and must do it recognizing what the impact will be on ratepayers, argued Steven Goldenberg, an attorney who represents manufacturers that use tremendous amounts of energy.

Terry Sobolewski, business development manager for SunPower, said the industry needs to make its case how the rapid development of the sector in New Jersey has created thousands of well-paying jobs here, and would continue to do so if the state stays on target to promote solar aggressively.

“Now, we’ve got 180 megawatts of installed solar and it’s created 3,500 jobs,’’ said Sobolewski, who suggested an even bigger bonanza of new jobs could be created if the state sticks with its target of 5,000 megawatts by 2026. “If you project forward, it’s a lot no matter how you slice it.’’

Lower Prices Expected

For those who argue solar is too expensive based on the spot prices being fetched by the solar certificates, Sobolewski said that argument assumes that is the price being paid for all certificates when it reflects about two-thirds of the market. Other solar certificates, which are earned under long-term contracts signed with suppliers, are averaging about $374, he said. “With more long-term contracts, the price will come down.’’

He and others argue the price of solar systems also will drop as technology improves. And as larger solar systems are built, economies of scale will drive the cost down further.

“Yes, solar is expensive right now, but we’re building an industry,’’ said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. “It’s nothing new to subsidize a new energy source so long as the costs keep going down and the technology is improving.’’

Beyond the issue of the solar certificates, advocates argue when trying to assess the cost of various programs, the state ought to consider the benefits. For instance, solar power replaces electricity generated by peaking plants, which are the most expensive ways of producing power and increase the cost of electricity for everyone. Solar produces the most power on days when peak plants generally run, typically, the hottest summer days when the sun is shining.

Solar Impulse, piloted by André Borschberg, flew for 26 hours and reached a height of 28,543 feet, setting a record for the longest and highest flight ever made by a solar plane.
By ALAN COWELL
Published: July 8, 2010

PARIS — Slender as a stick insect, a solar-powered experimental airplane with a huge wingspan completed its first test flight of more than 24 hours on Thursday, powered overnight by energy collected from the sun during a day aloft over Switzerland.

The organizers said the flight was the longest and highest by a piloted solar-powered craft, reaching an altitude of just over 28,000 feet above sea level at an average speed of 23 knots, or about 26 miles per hour.

The plane, Solar Impulse, landed where it had taken off 26 hours and 9 minutes earlier, at Payerne, 30 miles southwest of the capital, Bern, after gliding and looping over the Jura Mountains, its 12,000 solar panels absorbing energy to keep its batteries charged when the sun went down.

The pilot, André Borschberg, 57, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot, flew the plane from a cramped, single-seat cockpit, buffeted by low-level turbulence after takeoff and chilled by low temperatures overnight.

“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Mr. Borschberg said as he landed, according to a statement from the organizers of the project. “Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise, thanks to the sun.” He added that he had flown the entire trip without using any fuel or causing pollution. The project’s co-founder, Dr. Bertrand Piccard, who achieved fame by completing the first nonstop, round-the-world flight by hot air balloon in 1999, embraced the pilot after he landed the plane to the cheers of hundreds of supporters.

“When you took off, it was another era,” The Associated Press quoted Dr. Piccard as saying. “You land in a new era where people understand that with renewable energy you can do impossible things.”

The project’s designers had set out to prove that — theoretically at least — the plane, with its airliner-size, 208-foot wingspan, could stay aloft indefinitely, recharging batteries during the day and using the stored power overnight. “We are on the verge of the perpetual flight,” Dr. Piccard said.

The project’s founders say their ambition is for one of their craft to fly around the world using solar power. The propeller-driven Solar Impulse, made of carbon fiber, is powered by four small electric motors and weighs around 3,500 pounds. During its 26-hour flight, the plane reached a maximum speed of 68 knots, or 78 miles per hour, the organizers said.

The seven-year-old project is not intended to replace jet transportation — or its comforts.

Just 17 hours after takeoff, a blog on the project’s Web site reported, “André says he’s feeling great up there.”

It continued: “His only complaints involve little things like a slightly sore back as well as a 10-hour period during which it was minus 20 degrees Celsius in the cockpit.”

That made his drinking water system freeze, the post said and, worst of all, caused his iPod batteries to die.

By Maya Rao Inquirer Staff Writer TRENTON –

 Last month, a state utilities board voted to allocate $15 million in federal stimulus money for grants to make businesses more energy efficient.

The money for the program, which seeks to lower New Jersey residents’ utility bills by reducing demand from the biggest users of the electric grid, should have come from a fee assessed on major commercial and industrial users since 2003.

 But the Retail Margin Fund, which holds that revenue, is empty – among the consequences of hundreds of millions of dollars in diversions from “dedicated” funds to help the state close a multibillion-dollar budget gap.

 Budget documents show that environmental and clean-energy programs designed to reduce New Jersey household and commercial utility bills are being hit particularly hard, with about $400 million rerouted into the state’s general fund.

The state raided $128 million from the Retail Margin Fund, which is generated by fees from commercial and industrial users, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, and will take $14 million under the $29.4 billion budget signed into law last week.

Greg Reinert, spokesman for the Board of Public Utilities, said the fund had never spent the money collected over the years.

 Today, he said, “there’s nothing left in it.” Just last year, the state enacted a law authorizing the fund to spend $60 million on combined-heat-and-power grants for businesses. The program aimed to help the state develop 1,500 megawatts of cogeneration capacity by 2020.

 Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D., Somerset), a primary sponsor of the 2009 law, criticized the shift of $15 million in stimulus money to fund the cogeneration program as a one-shot fix. The fund is paid into by business customers “who are hurting with higher energy costs.

 By taking their money away and not giving it back to them, to balance the budget, it’s totally inappropriate,” he said. Chivukula grilled the sponsor of the bill authorizing the diversions from that and other environmental funds on the Assembly floor during last Monday’s marathon legislative session. Yet Chivukula provided one of the handful of Democratic votes needed to pass the measure, citing “the spirit of bipartisanship.” “Given the dire circumstances we’re facing in New Jersey with revenue shortfalls, we have little or no choice” but to look to other areas “to make this budget balanced,” Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R., Burlington), the bill’s sponsor and a previous critic of budget raids, told Chivukula.

The moves concern lawmakers and environmental advocates alike. “One of the problems is that this isn’t taxpayer money. . . . It was ratepayer money that had been set aside and dedicated to clean energy that helps people save money and helps create jobs and helps reduce pollution, so it was a no-win situation for the environment, the economy, and the people of New Jersey,” said Matt Elliott, the global-warming and clean-energy advocate for Environment New Jersey.

 “Once they get used to robbing these funds,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, “they may continue to rob them because it becomes easy – and that is going to mean higher electric costs for consumers, fewer jobs in a time when we need to grow our economy, and more air pollution.”

The largest diversion comes from the Clean Energy Fund, which annually takes in about $250 million, an average of $20 per New Jersey household, through a charge on utility bills. The fee stems from the 1999 utility deregulation under Republican Gov. Christie Whitman.

Revelations that the administration of Gov. Jon S. Corzine rerouted $30 million from the fund in 2009 drew outrage from several South Jersey lawmakers. Assemblymen Vincent Polistina and John Amodeo, Republicans from Atlantic County, lambasted the move as “Exhibit A of budget-balancing gimmicks.” Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington) called for an end to the practice.

 But those same lawmakers closed out fiscal 2010 by voting to authorize a $158 million diversion from the fund, and an additional $10 million this fiscal year.

In interviews, the three legislators said they continued to oppose raiding funds, but described their votes as necessary in a difficult fiscal climate.

Polistina blamed the Democratic Corzine administration, saying it had “overestimated revenues so badly that we were left with very little options, and at this point it seemed like the best way to try to close the shortfall that was created by Corzine.”

The moves have also upset the industry: The Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association sued the Christie administration in May, saying diversions of clean-energy money were unconstitutional. Reinert said the impact of the diversions from the Clean Energy Fund had been softened by the BPU’s recapturing $61 million that had been set aside but never spent on various projects.

He said the BPU had actually increased funding for a successful home energy audit program. Taking money from dedicated funds is a longtime, if controversial, practice under administrations of both parties in Trenton.

State leaders gave approval last week to dip into funds dedicated to spinal-cord and breast-cancer research, disability payments, and economic development. They authorized diverting $10 million set aside to make state buildings more energy efficient, and tapping the recycling fund for $7 million, the same amount diverted last year. The budget also says that “all revenues from fees and fines collected by the Department of Environmental Protection . . . shall be deposited into the state general fund without regard to their specific dedication.”

States from California to Connecticut are raiding dedicated funds to offset enormous budget deficits. Rhode Island this year decided it was a violation of state law to divert cap-and-trade revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is an agreement among 10 Northeast states to cut carbon emissions. New York and New Hampshire, however, took millions from their RGGI funds this year.

New Jersey is redirecting $65 million in RGGI money to its general fund. Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May) said the moves meant a lack of investment in the future, given that New Jersey has been “on the cutting edge of clean energy.”

He withheld his support for the budget last year out of numerous concerns about raiding dedicated funds, and has sponsored a resolution to bar the practice through a state constitutional amendment. He nonetheless voted to authorize the diversions last week, explaining: “We have to move forward in New Jersey.

We have to put out a message that we can’t have a [government] shutdown.”

Our Perspective:

I find this article to be really distuurbing. It just continues to validate my view that the system is broken. We have been caught up in greed and abandoned our ideals to be self serving. We have to rethink our efforts and start thinking outside the box.

The status quo is not working. The politicians are not serving our best interest. There must be a better way and we have to start electing people who our true to our ideals and will work to make this world a better place. Stop putting bandaids on everything.