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.

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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 Diane Mastrull

Inquirer Staff Writer

The sun, it seems, was no match for another source of scorching heat: a state budget firefight in Harrisburg.

Late last week, a somber State Rep. Greg Vitale (D., Delaware) said his bill to boost Pennsylvania’s clean-energy standards and the state’s commitment to alternative energy, including solar, had “taken a back seat” to two budget-balancing proposals he opposed.

“My attention has frankly shifted to those two big issues,” Vitale said.

He was referring to bipartisan-backed measures that would reduce the financing level for the Department of Environmental Protection and increase by 100,000 acres state forest in the Marcellus Shale territory that would be offered for natural gas drilling in 2009 and again in 2010.

Though considered the most important piece of energy/environmental legislation pending in Pennsylvania, House Bill 80 likely will see no action by the House and Senate until after budget matters are settled, Vitale said.

The measure bogged down all summer long while a variety of interest groups – including coal companies, environmentalists, electricians, roofers, and advocacy groups for consumers and businesses – fought to have their concerns addressed.

Sal DePrisco, a solar installer, and John F. Curtis III, who has proposed developing one of the nation’s largest solar-power plants, are among many who had hoped for a brighter legislative forecast.

DePrisco is director of operations at Russell Solar in Oreland, Montgomery County, a division of Russell Roofing created more than a year ago, when it looked as if the solar business in Pennsylvania was about to take off.

In July 2008, the state legislature approved Gov. Rendell’s $650 million Alternative Energy Funding Act, which allotted $100 million for a new solar initiative that would provide rebates of 35 percent to homeowners and small businesses to offset the cost of buying solar systems.

An engineer by training, DePrisco joined the legions this summer who wrote to lawmakers urging passage of the bill, in large part because it would amend the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act in favor of more solar-energy use.

Currently, those standards require that solar be the source of at least 0.5 percent of the alternative energy that utilities must tap by 2021. H.B. 80 would increase that minimum share to 3 percent by 2024.

What specifically triggered DePrisco’s letter-writing was a proposed amendment to the measure that solar installers perceived as a threat to work they had just begun to count on. Sponsored by State Rep. Bill Keller (D., Phila.) on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the provision called for all solar-photovoltaic systems and components to be installed by licensed electrical contractors.

Opponents were led to believe the IBEW wanted to claim every aspect of solar work, including affixing racking to roofs and delivery of solar panels there. That raised the temperature of the argument.

A resolution has since been reached that seems to have widespread support, Vitale said. It would require that in order for new or upgraded solar-photovoltaic and solar-thermal electricity systems to qualify for alternative-energy credits, they must be installed by licensed electrical contractors, if the relevant municipality licenses such contractors. Some do not.

In those cases, systems must be installed by a contractor the state has deemed qualified to participate in the Pennsylvania Sunshine rebate program.

Last week, DePrisco seemed satisfied, saying it was Russell Solar’s policy to use licensed electricians for the mechanical mounting and wiring of solar-power systems.

What had him more worked up was a concern that consumers who did not carefully evaluate the credentials of an installer could easily be duped. DePrisco described a customer who had recently gotten a quote for a system that was too big to fit on the roof of the house.

“There’s a lot of [solar installers] coming out of the woodwork,” DePrisco said. “The last thing I need is people sullying the reputation of the business.”

Curtis’ route to activism on H.B. 80 traces to 100 acres in Nesquehoning, Carbon County, where he had hoped to have 57,000 solar panels installed on former industrial-park land and generating 11.5 megawatts – enough to provide electricity to 1,500 homes – by this fall.

Financing for the $78 million project has been secured, but outstanding regulatory issues have delayed the expected start-up date for the solar park to July 1.

At his home office in Whitemarsh last week, Curtis revealed plans for two other plants: one near the Nesquehoning site, the other north of Allentown. Combined, the three plants would represent 40 megawatts of power.

His interest in pushing for legislation that would require increases in the use of solar power is obvious.

What may be less apparent, Curtis worries, is the economic-development impact that increasing the state’s solar-use requirements would have in terms of jobs created from the construction of solar plants and in ancillary businesses.

In written testimony to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in May, he estimated that the state would lose $1.4 billion in economic development and 28,012 solar jobs if H.B. 80 were not enacted. Curtis’ Nesquehoning solar park will include a green-jobs-training/visitor center.

As part of a coalition of legislators, solar developers, environmentalists, and special-interest groups known as the Green Dog Caucus, Curtis attends meetings in Harrisburg to help refine H.B. 80 to “make sure we have more, rather than just enough,” votes for it to pass.

A jump-in-with-both-feet kind of guy, Curtis has been pushing for amendments to the bill that would ramp up the requirements for solar usage sooner than originally proposed.

“A true solar market,” he said in a recent letter to lawmakers, “is not a market without depth and liquidity.”

By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission yesterday approved a Peco Energy Co. proposal to buy solar-energy credits for 10 years, which officials expect will substantially boost the nascent market for renewable energy.

The ruling allows the Philadelphia utility to begin buying alternative-energy credits to comply with a law that forces utilities to derive a gradually increasing portion of their power from renewable-energy sources.

PUC chairman James H. Cawley commended Peco “for taking the initiative to kick-start the process.” The state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act requires electrical utilities to buy 18 percent of their power from alternative-energy sources by 2020.

The market for solar alternative-energy credits has been “very thin and very illiquid” because the laws requiring utilities to buy solar power are only starting to kick in, according to Mike Freeman, senior originator of Exelon Generation Co. L.L.C., the wholesale power arm of Peco’s parent company, Exelon Corp.

Peco’s planned purchase of 80,000 credits over 10 years – each credit represents one megawatt-hour of power, or about as much as a residential customer would consume in a summer – should provide a strong signal to solar builders about the value of their projects, which will assist long-term financing.

“This is a fairly significant event in the solar world,” Freeman said of the decision.

Renewable-energy credits are sold by electric generators for every one megawatt-hour of renewable power they produce, apart from the income they derive from selling the electricity itself.

Peco said it would competitively purchase the credits through requests for proposals. The energy must be generated within the area served by the regional grid, PJM Interconnection L.L.C., which covers parts of 13 states.

Though the market for the credits is not fully established, the PUC estimates their value at $230 each – and some experts say the price will probably exceed $300 each. That means Peco’s investment could exceed $24 million.

 

Joel Page for The New York Times

Turbine blades bound for a wind farm on Kibby Mountain, Me. The technology has changed, but energy turf wars are familiar.

By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: July 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — While most lawmakers accept that more renewable energy is needed on the nation’s grid, the debate over the giant climate-change and energy bill now before Congress is exposing a fundamental rift. For many players, the energy not only has to be clean and free of carbon-dioxide emissions, it also has to be generated nearby.

The division has set off a fight between Eastern and Midwestern politicians and grid officials over parts of the bill dealing with transmission lines and solar and wind energy. Many officials, including President Obama, say that the grid is antiquated and that thousands of miles of new power lines are needed to allow construction of wind farms and solar fields in the most promising spots. Many of the best wind sites are in the Midwest, far from the electric load in populous East Coast cities.

An influential coalition of East Coast governors and power companies fears that building wind and solar sites in the Midwest would cause their region to miss out on jobs and other economic benefits. The coalition is therefore trying to block a mandate for transcontinental lines.

They want the wind farms built in rural New England and offshore from Massachusetts to Delaware, and for now it appears that they may get a chance to do that. They are campaigning to keep a provision out of the legislation that would mandate a huge super-high-voltage grid, with the cost spread among millions of electric customers.

“While we support the development of wind resources for the United States wherever they exist,” the governors warned in a May 4 letter to House and Senate leaders, “this ratepayer-funded revenue guarantee for land-based wind and other generation resources in the Great Plains would have significant, negative consequences for our region.”

Dan W. Reicher, an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who now leads energy initiatives at Google, said the debate exposed a conundrum. “The areas with the most attractive renewable energy resources often don’t overlap with the places where the push for job creation is strongest,” Mr. Reicher said.

For example, a wind machine in North Dakota would produce more energy than the same machine in some Eastern states — but energy projects tend to get built in places where they are most wanted.

The East Coast advocates may have won a crucial first round. When the House passed its sweeping energy and climate-change bill on June 26, it included a provision that lets the federal government overrule state objections to new power lines — but only west of the Rockies. Western states would be unlikely to oppose the new power lines in any case: the region has long been accustomed to huge generation projects built at a great distance from load centers.

But the bill would not give the federal government a mandate to overrule the Eastern states on transmission lines. The issue will be on the table again as the Senate takes up the bill in the next few weeks.

A two-year effort by transmission authorities in the eastern half of the country to draw up plans for a strong grid collapsed after grid officials in New York and New England pulled out, saying that the plans were too centered on moving Midwestern energy eastward.

In an interview, Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said he questioned “whether or not we need national transmission legislation at all.”

Mr. Bowles suggested that all Congress needed to do was impose a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions and mandate a national renewable energy quota. Then the market could determine whether resources should be in distant spots with long transmission lines or places closer to load centers, he said.

The debate echoes others in past years about whether to build conventional power plants locally or build stronger connections to distant conventional plants.

The governors’ concern, said James B. Robb, a senior vice president of Northeast Utilities, was not only the optimal cost and use of the electricity but also “any fringes that come along with it — the local tax base, local employment, all those kinds of things.”

For years, some planners have talked about a grid powerful enough to allow for “postage-stamp rates,” transmission charges that are small and independent of distance, so that power will be produced wherever it is most economical, even if that is half a continent away from where it is needed. But for local economic reasons some people resisted that idea, even in the days before tapping wind on the plains and sun in the desert became a national goal.

And a weak grid helps some electric companies. Local generators have often been able to charge more by being in the right place at the right time, with no competition because the long-distance lines are already fully loaded, experts say.

“When you have a constrained transmission system and you seek to unconstrain it,” said Mary Ellen Paravalos, the vice president for transmission at National Grid, a New York and New England company, some local parties stand to lose. This is true “even if the wider societal benefit is net positive,” Ms. Paravalos said.

Complicating the debate, many proposed power lines that could carry renewable energy to market could also end up carrying coal-fired power. An improved national grid would end the situation that prevails at many hours in the East today, when coal plants that can produce power cheaply sit idle while cleaner natural gas plants are running full tilt, able to sell their more expensive power because grid traffic is so bad that the coal power cannot reach the market.

That configuration costs consumers money but also reduces emissions of the carbon-dioxide emissions that cause climate change. So contrary to expectations, one effect of a stronger grid, although ardently sought by supporters of renewable energy, could be to push costs down but nudge coal-fired emissions up.

But the basic conflict remains distant energy versus local energy.

“Some states dealing with this issue see it not only as an environmental and least-cost-supply question but also as a potential economic development tool,” said Branko Terzic, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates some power lines.

Mr. Terzic added, “Those three goals are not always concurrent and could be in conflict.”

Written by Rob Perks

Visit NRDCs Switchboard Blog


The clean energy economy is upon us — but will the U.S. heed the call?

That’s the gist of today’s Washington Post story with this stark headline: Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy.

 

Excerpt:

President Obama has often described his push to fund “clean” energy technology as key to America’s drive for international competitiveness as well as a way to combat climate change.

“There’s no longer a question about whether the jobs and the industries of the 21st century will be centered around clean, renewable energy,” he said on June 25. “The only question is: Which country will create these jobs and these industries? And I want that answer to be the United States of America.”

But the leaders of India, South Korea, China and Japan may have different answers. Those Asian nations are pouring money into renewable energy industries, funding research and development and setting ambitious targets for renewable energy use. These plans could outpace the programs in Obama’s economic stimulus package or in the House climate bill sponsored by  Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and  Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

In due time fossil fuels will be gone — no one can dispute that.  So why is it that so many people — including an alarmingly high number of those serving in Congress — would rather waste time and energy denying the clear and present danger of climate change and resisting the solutions promised by a clean energy future?

[UPDATE: This just in…A new Harvard study finds that wind energy potential is considerably higher than previous estimates by both wind industry groups and government agencies.]

In my mind I can see a television commercial with just an hour glass on screen and this narration:

“Oil is running out.”

“Coal is running out.”

“Whether we like it or not, fossil fuels are going the way of the dinosaurs.”

“But we know that the wind and the sun will never run out.  And we can generate power from these natural, safe and limitless sources.”

“It’s time to move beyond the dirty energy of the past and embrace reliable clean power for the 21st century.”

“As a nation, we need to do this…before time runs out.”

Let’s all remember that America is a nation built on the foundation of freedom, independence and self-sufficiency — and those values must be at the heart of our strategy for energy policy.  We shouldn’t be losing ground in the world economy, buidling up massive trade deficits to pay for foreign oil.  It’s time we commit ourselves as a nation to develop clean, safe energy from the sun, wind and other natural sources that will create millions of jobs and rebuild our manufacturing base.

It just so happens that the best way to bring jobs and prosperity back to this country is also the way to end our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and protect the Earth we leave our children.  Let’s get back to building things again, starting with wind turbines, solar panels, and energy-efficient products that say ‘Made in America.’  After all, we have led every technological revolution of the last two centuries — electricity, railroads, the telephone, automobiles, the television, computers — and there’s no reason we can’t lead this one.

I have to question the logic (and patriotism!) of those politicians who would do the bidding of polluting industries — Big Oil, Big Coal, Nukes — when those dirty and unsafe technologies offer only short-term energy generation benefits at an extremely high cost to our heath, air and water, and climate.  The sun, the wind, and the geothermal energy at the core of the Earth provide a limitless supply of clean energy — our scientists can harness them and our workers can build them.  Our leaders should harness — not hamper — the greatest source of power we have in this country: American ingenuity.

The fact is, we already have wind and solar technologies that can dramatically cut our reliance on dirty coal plants that create most of the pollution that is poisoning our lungs and damaging our atmosphere.  What we need now are leaders who can build on this progress by partnering with business to develop and deploy innovative energy technologies that will recharge our economy and create jobs. 

As Thomas Friedman wrote in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”:  “[T]he ability to develop clean power and energy efficient technologies is going to become the defining measure of a country’s economic standing, environmental health, energy security, and national security over the next 50 years.”

The story in the Washington Post today is yet another wake-up call.  We shouldn’t need countries in Asia or Europe or South America to show us how to compete in the emerging markets for efficient appliances and alternative fuels.  We need leaders with vision and courage who will invest in technological breakthroughs that will once and for all end our reliance on oil and spur manufacturing jobs that can’t be outsourced.  That way, America can start exporting clean energy instead of jobs.

As a nation, we have a choice to make.  Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between clean, new energy sources and economic prosperity.  The choice is between accepting the status quo by holding tight to the dirty energy of the past or boldy embarking on the path to safe, reliable clean energy — an investment which promises both immediate and long-term gains. 

At this important juncture in our history, what choice will our elected leaders make?  It’s up to each and every one of us to help them make the right decision.

This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Funky Fuels

Alternative energy sources—from algae to cow manure—that are really out there.

By Christopher Flavelle

 

  • Cassava

 

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has looked at cassava, a potatolike crop grown across the developing world, as a possible feedstock for biofuel. Also known as tapioca and yucca, cassava is drought-resistant and needs less fertilizer than other crops, making it cheaper than corn.

Estimated production cost: $1.40 to $2.40/gallon.

Prospects: Moderate. Growing cassava for fuel could drive up food prices, either directly or by diverting land away from other crops. But developing countries may be eager to support a homegrown energy source.

 

  • Algae

 

Because it grows quickly, has a high oil content, and needs only sunlight and water, algae looks promising as a source of both ethanol and biodiesel. It also serves as a filter for dirty water and as a carbon sink. Ideally, an algae farm could be located downstream from a large-scale farm or factory, where it can clean the water of pesticides, carbon, and heavy metals.

Estimated production cost: $1 to $2/gallon.

Prospects: Good. Algae is cheap and easy to grow.

 

  • Beetle-infested timber

 

Thanks to the mountain pine beetle, some 500 million cubic meters of British Columbia’s lodgepole pine forest have been turned into a hole-riddled tinderbox. The province’s Lignol Energy Corp. is developing technology to turn the beetle-infested timber into ethanol. The job’s made easier by the insects’ own handiwork, which leaves the trees easier to break down.

 

Estimated cost: $1.50/gallon

Prospects: Moderate. Using trees for fuel will always risk pushback from environmentalists.

 

  • Cow manure

In 2004, the Central Vermont Public Service launched the Cow Power program, which pays dairy farmers to produce fuel in the form of methane, made from cow manure through a process called anaerobic digestion. There are 135 anaerobic digesters operating in the United States, according to the EPA. Those digesters produce enough energy to power some 25,000 homes.

 

Estimated production cost: Varied.

Prospects: Excellent. Anaerobic digesters are already widespread in Europe.

  •  Chicken fat

Oklahoma-based Syntroleum Corp. converts chicken fat into synthetic fuel, using a process it calls hydro-processing. The company says the fuel produced from chicken fat is chemically identical to regular, petroleum-based fuels.

 

Estimated production cost: Less than $2.40/gallon.

Prospects: Good. Barring an explosion in vegetarianism, otherwise-useless chicken fat will continue to be scraped off the floor of America’s industrial-size rendering plants for the foreseeable future.

 

  • Garbage

The ultimate alternative fuel source will need to boast some combination of worthlessness and abundance. The waste-to-ethanol process uses garbage that can’t be recycled or composted, like plastics and construction-wood waste, and turns it first into a gas and then a liquid. The final product is meant to be chemically identical to ethanol made from corn.

 

Estimated production cost: Too soon to tell.

Prospects: Excellent. If the technology promised by these plants works, expect to see a lot more of them.

Our Perspective:

Biofuels are paving the way to future energy independence. To date Ethanol has been the one product that everyone is aware of. It is made from corn. Below is an overview of other viable options that can be integral in developing future energy alternative fuels.

Let us know your thoughts?

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

PA Poised for Solar

June 17, 2009

By Jane M. Von Bergen

Inquirer Staff Writer

Gov. Rendell stood on the deck of a Roxborough home last month talking about how the $100 million in the Pennsylvania Sunshine rebate program would make it possible for homeowners to afford an energy-saving solar system.

In Malvern, the $800,000 solar system that Siemens Medical Solutions installed in 2006 is yielding $18,000 a year in savings. With a state grant reducing the cost to $400,000, building manager Kevin Matthews expects the system to pay for itself by 2013.

To the 80 or so electrical contractors, suppliers, and electricians’ union officials at a seminar hosted by the National Electrical Contractors Association’s Penn-Del Jersey chapter yesterday, these examples prove that the solar-energy market is ready to yield its financial promise.

That is why the contractors want everyone to understand that, fundamentally, it is electrical work and that their employees, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are already trained to handle the jobs.

“There is a green workforce prepared to install these sustainable-energy projects,” said Kenneth MacDougall, business-development director for the contractors’ association.

Regardless of whether power originates from the sun or a dam, it is electricity and it moves through wires, he said.

MacDougall works closely with IBEW Local 380 in Collegeville, which has added green-energy training to its five-year electrical-apprenticeship program. Its facilities include a solar structure that apprentices use to practice installing solar panels and connecting them to the structure’s electrical system.

Union and management work together to develop and fund the training.

Green-energy work “all seems so new and fascinating, but we’ve been doing it,” said David Schaaf, business manager of Local 380.

But there are hitches in the pitch. Pennsylvania’s Department of Energy, for example, wants solar contractors used in the Sunshine rebate program to be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

The national electrical contractors’ association and the union are close to convincing the board that its training meets board standards, a national apprentice-training director told the group.

But there is another problem. The board requires contractors to have a certified practitioner on staff when they bid for the work.

That is not an issue for Union Electrical Contracting Co., the Fort Washington company that handled the Siemens job. It employs 100 electricians, including a dozen who work on solar projects.

But smaller contractors bidding on residential projects probably will not have that kind of person on staff. Instead, they would call the union for a journeyman trained in solar. MacDougall said that his organization and union officials were trying to persuade the state to amend regulations to accommodate this common type of building-trade business model.

Our Perspective:

Pennsylvania is open for the solar business!

Rebates are available for under 50KW systems, which is mostly geared toward residential and small business.

Should you be a small business and intersted in how the state and federal incentives will accelerate  the payback on your solar investment, email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-857-1230