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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As reported in Courier Post 8/19/11

 

New Jersey’s proposed energy policy calls for 22.5 percent  of the state’s power to come from renewable sources within 10 years  a goal that was the subject of heavy debate at a legislative hearing  attended by nearly 100 people Thursday.

Environmentalists said they want a 30 percent target, but business  leaders said that would drive their costs up.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, defended the goal proposed  in Gov. Chris Christie’s draft energy master plan, calling it fair  and an “aggressive standard.”

Only eight states have higher renewable portfolio standards  than 22.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy website.  The standards are state policies that require electricity providers  to obtain a minimum percentage of their power from renewable energy  resources, including the sun and wind, by a certain date.

After Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club made a case for  the higher benchmark, Beck said: “I’ve been told on many occasions  that’s a stretch for us. We know solar and wind are great sources,  but they’re not particularly reliable, and that’s a challenge.  There’s also a responsibility for us to be realistic to set goals  that can be met.”

New Jersey currently obtains less than 10 percent of its electricity  supply from renewable energy sources.

But Tittel noted that New Jersey has ramped up, with more than  10,000 solar arrays installed. Only California has more.

“We’re No. 2 in solar installations. We shouldn’t go back,”  said Tittel, who added that he fears Christie’s policy could jeopardize  funding for renewable energy projects for homeowners and small  businesses and affect more than 200 solar companies in New Jersey.

Corporate executives who testified said the current relative  high costs of solar energy should not be discounted.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations  for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the poor economy underscores  the need for an energy policy that loosens restrictions. He praised  Christie’s plan.

“I think you have to look at everything in context,” said Egenton,  who said money spent on higher energy costs by companies would lead  to less money spent on operations and investments. “You have to  look at the bigger picture.”

The joint legislative hearing took place at the Toms River town  hall and was co-chaired by Sen. Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon,  both Democrats.

State energy regulators also are holding hearings this month  and will vote to adopt a final energy policy later this year.

The lawmakers on the panel received an admonishment from Janet  Tauro, an environmentalist who is co-chairwoman of Grandmothers,  Mothers and More for Energy Safety.

With the topic turned to energy conservation, Tauro made a common  sense suggestion:

“We can turn down the air conditioning and turn off lights,”  said Tauro, also of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Most of the panel members were in jackets or sweaters.

There was little reaction from the panel after Tauro, a Brick  resident, made her comment. Later the room became colder, and more  lights were turned on.

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.”

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

by Julie Dengler 05.MAR.10
It’s a bird, it’s a plane — it’s a solar panel?
Residents of many local towns may have recently noticed panels being installed about 15 feet up on residential utility and street-light poles. The panels are five feet by two and half feet, and weigh about 60 pounds. By the end of 2013, 200,000 panels will have been installed throughout New Jersey.

PSE&G sources say that their “investment is the largest pole-attached solar installation in the world … New Jersey has more installed solar capacity than any state except California.” New Jersey estimates its solar power capacity at 40 megawatts of “pole-mounted solar.” Karen Johnson, media spokesperson for the company, estimates one megawatt as enough energy to power approximately 800 homes.
The work is part of a renewable energy program approved for PSE&G by federal regulators last July. It is called Solar 4 All, and is estimated to be a $515 million investment on the part of PSE&G in New Jersey over the next three years. The goal of the program is to move the state closer to meeting an energy master plan requirement of 4.4% (or 80 megawatts) of solar energy use in the electric grid by 2020.
PSE&G says, “The installations will be paid for by PSE&G electric customers. The first year bill impact for the average residential customer will be roughly 10 cents a month.”
Currently, panels are being placed on pre-selected PSE&G-owned utility and street light poles only. Negotiations to share space with Verizon-owned poles are planned.
According to the PSE&G fact sheet on the installation (available at http://www.PSEG.com), poles that qualify for the panel meet several criteria, besides being owned by the utility company. PSE&G is selecting poles that can support the units, face in a southerly direction and have no more than one transformer already on the pole.
The Retrospect caught up with two contracted installers from Riggs Distler and Company, Inc. this week, while they installed a new panel on a pole on Haddon Avenue. Derwin Booker said that the project is keeping his union, and the contractor he works for, busy. While he has been working on installs in Collingswood and Haddon Township, he also worked on the recent installs along Kings Highway in Cherry Hill.
All of the panels are equipped with GPS (Global Positioning Satellite receivers), and each faces exactly 193 degrees south-southwest in order to maximize solar power collection, explained Booker. He said that specific poles were selected from the millions of utility and street poles throughout New Jersey. The panels are equipped with what he called an aggregator, which communicates the collection rates of 10 to 15 panels at a time, back to a main data collection site, so that the rate of energy per cluster of panels can be measured and tracked.
All of the solar energy collected by the panels flows back into the electronic grid as power. Booker commented that the additional energy generated can help in heavy electrical use periods – like summertime, when air conditioners are running — when service is at risk of brown-outs.
Additionally, PSE&G explains, “The installations will generate Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). PSE&G will sell any SRECs it generates to offset program costs. PSE&G will sell the power into the PJM (Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland) wholesale grid and will receive federal tax credits – which will also be used to offset the cost to customers.”

– Copyright 2010 The Retrospect

As reported in Courier Post

DURANGO, COLO. — The sun had just crested the distant ridge of the Rocky Mountains, but already it was producing enough power for the electric meter on the side of the Smiley Building to spin backward.

For the Shaw brothers, who converted the downtown arts building and community center into a miniature solar power plant two years ago, each reverse rotation subtracts from their monthly electric bill. It also means the building at that moment is producing more electricity from the sun than it needs.

 “Backward is good,” said John Shaw, who now runs Shaw Solar and Energy Conservation, a local solar installation company.

 Good for whom? 

As La Plata County in southwestern Colorado looks to shift to cleaner sources of energy, solar is becoming the power source of choice even though it still produces only a small fraction of the region’s electricity. It’s being nudged along by tax credits and rebates, a growing concern about the gases heating up the planet, and the region’s plentiful sunshine.

 The natural gas industry, which produces more gas here than nearly every other county in Colorado, has been relegated to the shadows.

 Tougher state environmental regulations and lower natural gas prices have slowed many new drilling permits. As a result, production — and the jobs that come with it — have leveled off.

With the county and city drawing up plans to reduce the emissions blamed for global warming and Congress weighing the first mandatory limits, the industry once again finds itself on the losing side of the debate.

 A recent greenhouse-gas inventory of La Plata County found that the thousands of natural gas pumps and processing plants dotting the landscape are the single largest source of heat-trapping pollution locally.

 That has the industry bracing for a hit on two fronts if federal legislation passes.

 First, it will have to reduce emissions from its production equipment to meet pollution limits, which will drive up costs. Second, as the county’s largest consumer of electricity, gas companies probably will see energy bills rise as the local power cooperative is forced to cut gases released from its coal-fired power plants or purchase credits from other companies that reduce emissions.

“Being able to put solar systems on homes is great, you take something off the grid, it is as good as conserving,” said Christi Zeller, the executive director of the La Plata Energy Council, a trade group representing about two dozen companies that produce the methane gas trapped within coal buried underground.

“But the reality is we still need natural gas, so embrace our industry like you are embracing wind, solar and the renewables,” she said.

It’s a refrain echoed on the national level, where the industry, displeased with the climate bill passed by the House this summer, is trying to raise its profile as the Senate works on its version of the legislation.

In March, about two dozen of the largest independent gas producers started America’s Natural Gas Alliance. In ads in major publications in 32 states, the group has pressed the case that natural gas is a cleaner-burning alternative to coal and can help bridge the transition from fossil fuels to pollution-free sources such as wind and solar.

 “Every industry thinks every other industry is getting all the breaks. All of us are concerned that we are not getting any consideration at all from people claiming they are trying to reduce the carbon footprint,” said Bob Zahradnik, the operating director for the Southern Ute tribe’s business arm, which includes the tribes’ gas and oil production companies. None is in the alliance.

 Politicians from energy-diverse states such as Colorado are trying to avoid getting caught in the middle. They’re working to make sure that the final bill doesn’t favor some types of energy produced back home over others.

 At a town hall meeting in Durango in late August, Sen. Mark Udall, who described himself as one of the biggest proponents of renewable energy, assured the crowd that natural gas wouldn’t be forgotten.

“Renewables are our future — but we also need to continue to invest in natural gas,” said Udall, D-Colo.

 Much more than energy is at stake. Local and state governments across the country also depend on taxes paid by natural gas companies to fund schools, repair roads and pay other bills.

In La Plata County alone, the industry is responsible for hundreds of jobs and pays for more than half of the property taxes. In addition, about 6,000 residents who own the mineral rights beneath their property get a monthly royalty check from the companies harvesting oil and gas.

 “Solar cannot do that. Wind cannot do that,” said Zeller, whose mother is one of the royalty recipients. In July, she received a check for $458.92, far less than the $1,787.30 she was paid the same month last year, when natural gas prices were much higher.

 Solar, by contrast, costs money.

Earlier this year, the city of Durango scaled back the amount of green power it was purchasing from the local electric cooperative because of the price. The additional $65,000 it was paying for power helped the cooperative, which is largely reliant on coal, to invest in solar power and other renewables.

 “It is a premium. It is an additional cost,” said Greg Caton, the assistant city manager.

Instead, the city decided to use the money to develop its own solar projects at its water treatment plant and public swimming pool. The effort will reduce the amount of power it gets from sources that contribute to global warming and make the city eligible for a $3,000 rebate from the La Plata Electric Association.

Yes, the power company will pay the city to use less of its power. That’s because the solar will count toward a state mandate to boost renewable energy production.

“In the typical business model, it doesn’t work,” said Greg Munro, the cooperative’s executive director. “Why would I give rebates to somebody buying someone else’s shoes?”

The same upfront costs have prevented homeowners from jumping on the solar bandwagon despite the tax credits, rebates and lower electricity bills.

 Most of Shaw’s customers can’t afford to install enough solar to cover 100 percent of their homes’ electricity needs, which is one reason why solar supplies just a fraction of the power the county needs.

 The higher fossil-fuel prices that could come with climate legislation would make it more competitive.

 “You can’t drive an industry on people doing the right thing. The best thing for this country is if gas were $10 a gallon,” said Shaw, as he watched two of his three full-time workers install the last solar panels on a barn outside town.

 The private residence, nestled in a remote canyon, probably will produce more power from the sun than it will use, causing its meter to spin in reverse like the Smiley Building’s. The cost, however, is steep: more than $500,000.

As reported in Green Inc.

The price of rooftop solar panels has fallen drastically, as I reported in The New York Times on Thursday. But for some homeowners, the upfront costs remain prohibitive.

Indeed, many readers have remarked on the article’s opening anecdote, about a homeowner in the Houston area who installed a 64-panel, $77,000 system (before the 30 percent federal tax credit) for his amply sized house and garage.

One way to bring the initial costs down would be to put smaller arrays on homes. After all, if financial constraints are a consideration, why put dozens of panels on your home when you could put just one or two?

One reason has long been the inverter — the piece of a solar-power system that converts the direct current voltage produced by the panels to accelerating alternating current, which runs through the home. Right now, according to Glenn Harris, the chief executive of the consulting firm SunCentric, it is hard to find an inverter small enough to handle just one solar panel.

But microinverters — which fit on a single panel — are on their way.

Enphase Energy, a company based in California, has shipped 50,000 microinverters since last August, according to Raghu Belur, one of the company’s founders. Each costs about $200, and can be paired with a single solar panel and popped on the roof.

(Single solar panels, producing on the order of 200 watts, can be had for less than $1,000 — though that won’t do much to augment most household power needs.)

 “It is the key to enabling what’s called do-it-yourself-ers,” said Mr. Belur, though he says that it is wise to hire a licensed electrician to make the final connection. (Enphase says that its microinverters do eliminate high-voltage direct current, so there is less danger of a nasty electric shock.)

 “We’re specifying Enphase microinverters in our residential designs more and more often,” said Ryan Hunter, of the Texas installer Meridian Solar, in an e-mail message. The Enphase systems allow for greater flexibility, he said, and are “more shade tolerant in limited spaces.”

 Enphase officials say that having an inverter on each panel increases the efficiency of the solar array. On traditional systems, lower output from one panel — because of dust or leaves accumulating, for example — can affect the performance of every panel in the set. But the microinverters preserve the independence of each panel, so that the panels do not revert to the lowest common denominator of output.

Right now, Enphase microinverters do not come attached to panels. But by the middle of next year, big-box stores, Mr. Harris of SuncCentric predicted, will be stocking solar panels with the microinverters strapped on.

“The real magic is you don’t have to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to get a solar system,” he said.

Should you like to know more about your investment in Solar leave  comment or email  george@hbsadvantage.com

by Jerry James Stone, San Francisco, CA on 09.10.09

Science & Technology

Google’s developing new solar tech that will drop the cost from 18 cents a kW-h to just under 5. At least, it’s hoping to.

Just like everybody else, Google’s disappointed by the industry’s lack of innovation so they’ve decided just to do it themselves. At least that’s what Google’s Bill Weihl said today at the Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit hosted by Reuter’s right here in San Francisco.

Not too surprising. Google builds its own servers since commercial servers are too expensive. The company makes cheap janky ones and just lets its homegrown software handle the outages.

Google engineers have primarily been focused on solar thermal technology. Weihl hopes they can cut the cost of making heliostats by at least a factor of two, but “ideally a factor of three or four.”

“We’ve been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on,” said Weihl.

The search engine giant started investing in renewable energy back in 2007. Along with solar thermal tech, the company is also interested in gas turbines that could run on solar power rather than natural gas–a name change might be in order.

Whatever the technology turns out to be, their main interest is the cost. They want to create a renewable energy that has a lower price point than coal. In doing so, they have invested about $50 million in the industry so far.

“Typically what we’re seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost,” Weihl said. “So a 250 megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion. It’s a lot of money.”

Google hopes to showcase the technology within a few months. It must first sustain accelerated testing to show its resistance to decades of harsh desert conditions.

One thing’s for sure…I look forward to seeing what they’ll come up with.

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

CHARLES BABINGTON | May 27, 2009 06:26 PM EST | AP

President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed solar energy as a cost saver for a major Air Force base, one stop on a Western trip devoted to raising political money and promoting his economic policies.

Obama’s aides had mocked reporters for making a fuss over his first 100 days in office, but the president was eager to assess the first 100 days of his $787 billion economic stimulus package.

It has “saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs,” he said, including “jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; making homes and buildings more energy-efficient.”

The White House job claims are difficult to verify because they are based on estimates of how bad the economy might have been without the stimulus rather than actual employment data. The country has lost 1.3 million jobs since February, a figure the Obama administration says would have been far higher if not for the recovery effort.

Obama also announced more spending for renewable energy after touring a large field of solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. The sun-powered cells provide a quarter of the base’s power needs, Obama said, speaking in a large hangar warmed by the desert heat.

“That’s the equivalent of powering about 13,200 homes during the day,” he said, and it will save the Air Force nearly $1 million a year.

Obama said more than $467 million in stimulus money will be used “to expand and accelerate the development, deployment and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States.”

The president sandwiched the midday event between two political fundraisers: one on Tuesday night in Las Vegas for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and one set for Wednesday night in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Committee.

At Nellis, Obama addressed 400 people, including Air Force personnel, civilian workers and families living on the base.

The base’s $100 million public-private solar power system covers 140 acres and generates more than 14 megawatts of electricity.

As he departed the hangar, Obama bypassed his limousine and walked a quarter-mile along the tarmac to examine fighter jets, chatting with Air Force personnel as he went.

Our perspective:

Solar is the new energy growth maket. For the first time, with Federal and State incentives, the investment is solar finally makes sense.

To find out more how you can make solar your solution email george@hbsadvantage.com  or call 856-857-1230. We will review your opportunity and discuss the financial options available.