By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

For millions of New Jersey residents, solar power is coming soon to their neighborhoods – even to the utility poles in their backyards.

In a move both bold and expensive, state regulators yesterday approved a plan for Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the state’s largest utility, to install solar panels on 200,000 utility poles in its service territory.

The project will make New Jersey the nation’s second-most solar-fueled state, according to the state Board of Public Utilities, trailing only California.

PSE&G will spend $515 million to install 80 megawatts of solar power through the end of 2013, doubling the state’s solar capacity. Half the new production will be derived from individual solar modules mounted on about a quarter of PSE&G’s 900,000 utility poles.

The other 40 megawatts of production will be generated by centralized solar arrays, including one at PSE&G’s Cox’s Corner Switching Station in Evesham Township, Burlington County.

The 80-megawatt PSE&G project amounts to a tenth of the nation’s current total grid-connected photovoltaic capacity, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

“We think it’s a good program to get solar started in the state,” said Stefanie Brand, director of the N.J. Division of Rate Counsel, the state’s consumer advocate. Her office supported PSE&G’s proposal, which she said had a “very minor impact” on rates – adding about 10 cents per month for a residential customer in the first year, a 0.13 percent increase.

But the PSE&G project still amounts to only about 4.4 percent of the ambitious goal the state has set for power generated from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Unlike most solar projects, which supply individual customers with electricity, the PSE&G plan has attracted attention because its panels will feed directly into the electrical grid. PSE&G is calling the project “Solar 4 All” to drive home the point that all customers will benefit from solar, not just those who can afford to mount the heavily subsidized panels on their rooftops.

“This will give impetus for other projects to move forward,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which also supported the plan.

The environmental group says the project reinforces its argument that clean energy can benefit the local economy.

A New Jersey company, Petra Solar Inc., of South Plainfield, will provide the utility-pole modules under a $200 million contract, its first large commercial project. The three-year-old company plans to add 100 employees, more than tripling its current workforce, said Shihab Kuran, Petra’s chief executive officer.

Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., the regulated utility’s parent, said the solar project would also demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed-power schemes that use electricity generated from multiple sources inside the existing distribution system, reducing the dependence on distant power generators that require expensive transmission systems.

“One of the things I think will be essential for renewables in the future is that we can demonstrate that they make economic sense being built where there are people to use the electricity,” he said.

“This fantasy that some people still subscribe to, that we can build all renewable sources of energy in these places where the wind and sun are abundant . . . is just not economically efficient.”

PSE&G said the utility expected to receive federal tax credits and income from selling state renewable-energy credits, which will reduce the cost of the project. The total cost of the panels is about $6.44 for each watt produced, expensive by conventional power standards, but less than solar projects in the past.

In Camden and in Secaucus yesterday, PSE&G work crews installed several of the utility-pole solar systems.

Individually, the panels are unimpressive: Each one measures about 21/2 by 5 feet and produces about 200 watts. The output of 200,000 panels is 40 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 homes.

Petra’s technology combines a conventional crystalline silicon photovoltaic panel with a microinverter, which converts the direct-current electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating current that is distributed on the grid.

Each unit also incorporates wireless “smart-grid” communications devices so that the utility can monitor the output remotely.

Kuran, Petra’s chief executive, said that each unit was designed to be installed and wired into the grid in less than 30 minutes.

“The reduction in costs comes from the simplicity in installation and design,” he said. The units will be assembled at Petra’s New Jersey factory and delivered, ready for installation by PSE&G crews. The hardware is about 10 percent more expensive than conventional rooftop systems, he said, but the total installed cost is about 10 percent to 20 percent less than rooftop models.

Kuran said the company would buy its photovoltaic cells from several vendors. Petra’s chief supplier is Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., one of the world’s largest producers of solar panels. Suntech and Petra announced an alliance last month to produce the utility-grade systems.

Suntech is a Chinese company whose shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It announced in May that it was scouting U.S. locations to open manufacturing facilities to produce solar panels, and Suntech’s promise to open domestic manufacturing facilities was a critical reason Petra agreed to the alliance, Kuran said.

If successful, the PSE&G contract is likely to generate more business for the closely held Petra.

Petra is in talks with other utilities about installing its proprietary technology, said David Lincoln, managing director of Element Partners L.L.C., a Radnor clean-technology private-equity firm that provided Petra with an initial investment of $14 million in 2007. He is on Petra’s board of directors.

“This is really a major breakthrough, getting consumer validation of the technology,” Lincoln said.

Our Perspective:

This is a major step taken to validate the use of solar energy as an alternative energy resource. Should you like to know more on how to incorporate this solution for your business, contact us.

You may email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-217-5111. We can outline the opportunity, the investment along with the ROI.

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Says New Jersey leading the way

 

WASHINGTON, DC – Testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Committee in Washington today, Governor Jon S. Corzine told the panel the U.S. is on the verge of a “green revolution.” 

 “This revolution will require a new way of thinking about our energy supply, energy demand and our impacts on the global environment,” Governor Corzine said. “It will require the creation of new jobs across virtually every sector of our economy.  From financial institutions that are investing in the next innovation in solar energy technology, to the construction firms that will be modernizing our aging energy infrastructure, to the scientists at Rutgers University who are developing ways to convert algae into a renewable energy fuel. Skill and ingenuity of many kinds will be needed. “

 The Governor said serious challenges must met with serious solutions.  If not met, these challenges will compromise the reliability of the energy supply, burden homes and businesses with spiraling energy prices and threaten the global environment.

 “I am proud to say that New Jersey is at the forefront of leading this green revolution, and meeting the challenges that threaten our economic and environmental security,” added the Governor.  “Through efforts such as our Energy Master Plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and our efforts under our Global Warming Response Act, we have fashioned responsible, comprehensive and aggressive strategies.”

  New Jersey has set aggressive targets by:

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020
  • reducing energy consumption 20% by 2020.
  • reducing peak demand for electricity by 5,700 megawatts by 2020.
  • having 30% of  the state’s electricity supply come from renewable energy by 2020

 New Jersey has one of the most aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards in the country that requires electricity suppliers to purchase a specified percentage of their electricity from renewable energy each year.  In addition, New Jersey participates in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is the first mandatory carbon cap and trade program in the nation. 

 Additionally, the State has set aggressive targets for both solar energy and offshore wind development.  In fact, New Jersey is home to more solar energy installations than every other state in the country, except California. New Jersey also is on its way to sitting the first offshore windmills off the Atlantic Coast. 

 “Aggressive actions that states like New Jersey are taking are only the beginning,” the Governor said. “However, if we do not have technology innovation, we will not be able to meet the environmental challenges of the future.”

Our Perspective:

New Jersey is definitely at the forefront of this movement. They are 2nd, only to California, on providing incentives to help underwrite the investment and reducing the ROI.

Would you like to know more? Call 856-857-1230 or email george@hbsadvantage.com.

We specialize in providing the financial structure that will make bring this investment online.

Come join the Green Revolution!  It all starts with you!!

Thursday July 16, 2009

In just a few short years, the Garden State has become the Sunshine State

BY JOE TYRRELL
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

As Congress wrestles with national energy policies and gubernatorial candidates tout their plans here, New Jersey officials say the state deserves credit as a leader in promoting solar power.

In just a few years of coordinated efforts, New Jersey has gone from a non-factor to number two among the states in solar installations connected to the power grid. While far behind California, New Jersey currently generates about twice as many solar kilowatt hours as number three Colorado.

While applauding the gains, many in the industry also say the state, like the nation, has fallen well short of performance goals. New Jersey rose to the top of solar charts in a period when there was little competition from other states.

Now, as the federal government begins to pay attention to renewable energy, New Jersey is in the midst of a challenging transition away from an easy to understand program, which gave rebates to install solar power cells.

The new program shifts the focus away from consumers to utility companies and investors by creating a marketplace for renewable energy credits. The concept has its supporters, though many are more hopeful than confident.

Still, at a time when solar businesses believe the technology is on the verge of a belated boom in the United States, recent New Jersey statistics wowed some attendees at a recent industry conference in Philadelphia.

“Making this even more remarkable is that in 2001 New Jersey had only six” solar cell installations connected to the power grid, compared to more than 4,000 today, wrote Bob Haavind of Photovoltaics World.

His report can be viewed here.

During the session, the state’s top regulator, Board of Public Utilities President Jeanne Fox, proclaimed that when it comes to government policy, New Jersey is “the best place to do solar in the country.”

Around the country, many in solar trade groups and businesses credit New Jersey for showing what a small, partly cloudy state can do to grab its place in the sun.

“Obviously what they have been doing has worked,” said Monique Hanis, director of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

“What makes New Jersey stand out is the specific language in the state’s energy master plan, calling for the generation of 2.1 percent of its electricity to be coming from solar in 2021,” said Neal Lurie, director of marketing and communications for the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo.

Closer to home, though, reactions are more muted.

The rebate program “came out of advocacy” by solar power proponents, “it was not a BPU idea,” said Delores Phillips, the society’s Mid-Atlantic executive director.

Even with improving technology and rising costs for fossil fuels, the cost of solar power remains higher than those dirtier energy sources. Solar advocates maintain other forms of energy benefit directly and indirectly from government subsidies, such as state funds to decommission nuclear facilities, or cleanups of coal ash landfills.

New Jersey’s small spurt of solar power materialized during a BPU rebate program that turned out to be too popular for the board’s limited financial commitment. The initial surge in applications eventually bogged down as the release of funds slowed.

So the board decided on an innovative approach, creating financial instruments, solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs. The idea is that investors buy credits from solar producers, each pegged to 1 megawatt of power. The investors help producers expand, while reaping benefits from energy sales to utilities.

“We’re all looking to see how it’s going to make out,” Hanis said.

Compared to the rebates, grants or tax credits offered elsewhere, New Jersey’s approach is more ambitious but “still a little bit vague for some people,” she said.

“It’s not really tried and tested,” Phillips said, adding it requires two inter-related factors to success.

To be attractive to investors, SRECs need to be based on reliable values, meaning utilities must contract for long-term power purchases, she said. To serve those utilities, the investments must finance enough power to meet their requirements for more clean power, she said.

Judged on that basis, “New Jersey’s program is good, but only half as good as they said it was going to be,” said Edward O’Brien, a partner in McConnell Energy Solutions of Wilmington, De. Last year, instead of a projected 90 megawatts of solar power, the state was at 45, the result of continuing uncertainty over credit values, he said.

The theory is simple, O’Brien said. While not completely supplanting the mom-and-pop approach to solar panels, securitizing the solar marketplace should put it on the same funding as other major energy sources.

“Why are you out putting solar panels up on your house, which is hard to do, instead of buying five kilowatts worth of solar power from some producer?” O’Brien said.

In practice, though, the SREC system “has not been fully thought out,” he said.

Added to the current recession, investors are cautious because of America’s patchwork of energy policies and regulations, which vary from state to state, O’Brien said. States have not helped by altering programs, he said.

“Every state is different, and every state has a bait-and-switch,” O’Brien said.

Still, he is optimistic that New Jersey will regain its momentum, and others in the field view the problems as a hiccough in the growth of solar power.

In the short-run, “there could be a shake-out” during the transition from rebates, said Rick Brooke of Jersey Solar in Hopewell. But 25 years in the business and a number of false dawns, this opportunity looks golden.

As long as the state SREC market allows small systems to participate, people who installed solar panels on the roofs of their homes or businesses still have a chance to participate, Brooke said.

Moreover, people in the industry are expecting good things from the energy bill making its way through Congress. Nearby states have launched incentive programs, whether inspired by New Jersey or California, which has roughly two-thirds of the nation’s grid-connected solar systems, Brooke said.

“It’s a good time to be in the business,” he said. “The state is committed to it, they have goals. People are moving ahead with it. Before, the interest came and went, but now it’s here.”

Rebates and SRECs are not the only way to support the growth of solar power. This month, Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie each highlighted their support for renewable energy.

Democrat Corzine was able to announce the availability $20 million in federal grants for projects at public institutions in the state. Christie promised to create a new agency to promote clean energy technology and jobs, and would remove those functions from the BPU.

The Republican’s approach seemingly echoes Phillips’ complaints about the board’s “antiquated” procedures and primary purpose to regulate rates. But she said members of her association “were very underwhelmed by Chris Christie’s plan,” because it looks at the big picture and avoids the nitty-gritty.

While the Corzine Administration has set laudable goals for increasing clean energy, Phillips said most of the growth in solar power can be traced to his predecessor, former Gov. Jim McGreevey. There’s been “some stagnation” in state efforts since then, she said.

“Everybody likes to talk about clean energy job creation, but nobody explains how they’re going to do it,” she said.

Whether the New Jersey approach catches on remains uncertain. Around the nation, some communities are coming up with their own answers. Many solar advocates are looking beyond America to more successful programs abroad.

For more information on state incentives for renewable energy, visit njcleanenergy.com.

Our Perspective:

NJ has made great strides to join the alternative energy evolution. Not to say it is perfect, but for the first time people can see an acceleraed return on their investment that makes sense.

Rebates for systems under 5okw and the REC program has allowed funding to help underwrite these investments. Add the Federal incentives of a 30% tax credit and accelerated depreciation and the market is positioned to take off.

Would you like to know more? Contact us 856-857-1230 or email george@hbsadvantage.com.

We can provide an overview of your return on investment and help to develop the opportunity and make it become a reality.

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

CHRIS KAHN | June 29, 2009 03:27 PM EST | AP

NEW YORK — The government will help companies build powerful solar farms in the desert Southwest by pre-qualifying huge swaths of federal land for development.

The Department of Interior said Monday it will designate 670,000 acres of federal land in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as study areas for utility-scale solar projects.

The land will be divided into 24 tracts called Solar Energy Study areas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department will work with states on environmental studies and permitting to speed solar development in those areas.

Our Perspective:

This is good news. Finally, the government is stepping forward and acknowledging the opportunities provided by alternative energy development.

I hope this is only the beginning!

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com