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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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.

ESolar is here

August 10, 2009

idealab

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Idealab’s Bill Gross is reflected in a solar tracking mirror on the firm’s rooftop in Pasadena. His ESolar opens an innovative energy facility today in Lancaster.
Entrepreneur Bill Gross’ Pasadena firm has had its ups and downs. But it is energized since turning to clean tech, including ESolar, which is opening an innovative solar power facility in Lancaster.
By Alana Semuels  As reported in LA Times
August 5, 2009

The hundreds of glass mirrors break the dusty field in Lancaster, a sea of silver in a landscape of brown.

When switched on for the first time today at an opening gala with investors, local politicians and others, they’ll make up the first operational solar tower energy facility in the United States.

They reflect the sun into a tower in the middle of the field, boiling water into steam that travels through pipes to power a turbine and create electricity. The plant, created by Pasadena company ESolar Inc., will be able to power 4,000 homes.

The strength of the small field of mirrors is surprising, but what might be more surprising is the technology’s source. It was established by Pasadena incubator Idealab, a 1996 creation of entrepreneur Bill Gross. Gross, whom Time magazine once called the “man with a billion dollar brain,” generated some big hits with GoTo.com, Internet Brands Inc. and Cooking.com, along with such misses as Eve.com and EToys.

Idealab, which has counted director Steven Spielberg and actor Michael Douglas among its backers, has been spreading its reach to the green technology sector.

In the last three years, it has created RayTracker Inc., a solar tracking solution for photovoltaic systems; Distributed World Power, which designs solar systems for developing countries; Aptera Motors, which designs fuel-efficient cars; and ESolar.

It is jumping into the environmental market as venture capital is flowing more into clean-tech companies. Investment in such firms shot up 73% in the second quarter from the previous quarter, according to Ernst & Young, and is expected to continue growing.

The percentage of clean-tech investments to total investor funding has increased to double digits over the last three years, said Doug Regnier, an Ernst & Young partner leading its Pacific Southwest clean-tech consulting business.

Energy “is probably the biggest opportunity of the century,” Gross said. “The world’s energy needs and the demand to make that clean energy is going to be a challenge and an opportunity for smart entrepreneurs.”

Though focused on computer software for two decades, Gross said he returned to his passion for solar energy in 2000 as power shortages loomed. The Caltech graduate bought the restaurant next door to Idealab and turned it into a machine shop, eventually running solar experiments on the roof. Idealab’s first clean-tech firm, Energy Innovations, was created in 2001 to convert solar applications for commercial use. Idealab hired 50 people in the next three years to work on such ideas as a fuel-saving car and a portable solar device for developing countries.

The concept for ESolar came about as Idealab engineers started thinking about ways to provide cost-efficient solar energy for utilities and realized that most solar panels in commercial use were too big to be cost-efficient.

“We tried to figure out the angle we could exploit where we can zig where other people zag,” Gross said.

They came up with what Gross calls an unorthodox plan: “Go small.” Rather than make giant solar panels, they sized them at one square meter. That made the panels easier to install, putting them together like Legos rather than erecting a giant solar facility.

The smaller mirrors also are able to be aimed more quickly at the boiler target, said Michael Liebelson, head of the low-carbon development group at NRG Energy Inc., which is building plants using ESolar technology. Idealab’s software expertise helped it devise a way to manipulate the mirrors for better precision, he said.

“ESolar has one of the most, if not the most, innovative solar thermal technologies out there,” Liebelson said.

The ESolar plant in Lancaster went up on the barren desert site in 18 months, said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. He’s trying to make his city a center for alternative energy. “For an alternative energy to go on the line in 18 months, it’s literally unheard of,” he said.

ESolar has lined up more than $130 million in investments from such firms as NRG, ACME Group, Google’s philanthropic arm and Oak Investment Partners.

For Gross, ESolar’s effort is a sign that the interest in solar is growing — and that Idealab still has its knack for building companies and persuading venture capitalists to invest, even in a tough economy.

And it helps Gross regain a foothold after mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price and others sued him in 2002, alleging self-dealing and fraud, and shareholders bailed him out in 2006 after he failed to repay a $50-million personal loan.

“The biggest factor is when you’ve demonstrated that you can take a company from revenue to profit to successful exit,” he said. “That makes an investor comfortable that you can do it again.”

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!!

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.

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

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

Monday, April 13, 2009

BY LISA CORYELL
Special to the Times

EWING — It may have been God who said “Let there be light,” but it was a couple of business- savvy local church leaders who found a way to turn that divine gift into a money-saving venture for their congregation.

Grace Cathedral Fellowship Ministries church on Calhoun Street has plugged into the sun with a $600,000 solar energy system expected to cut church energy costs in half.

“Parishioners are strained by the economy and churches have cut costs where they can,” said Ronald Cobbs, chairman deacon of the church. “God will do a lot for us, but we have to some things our selves. Churches have to have good business sense.”

Installed by Trinity Solar of Freehold, the 95.13 kilowatt system is expected to produce approximately 120,000 kilowatt hours per year for the church — the largest solar energy system on any church in Mercer County.

The system is expected to generate enough energy to reduce church utility costs by about $40,000 a year. Church leaders say they expect to reap another $70,000 each year by selling Renewable Energy Credits to electricity providers in the state.

“We believe within six years we’ll have this system paid for,” said Bishop Jerome Wilcox, church pastor.

The giant solar panels needed to harness the sun’s energy sit cheek-to-jowl on the rooftops of the sprawling church sanctuary and an adjacent fellowship hall. A massive “inverter” on the north- side of the sanctuary changes the energy from DC power to AC power.

“We use what we need and what we don’t need goes back to the grid for PSE&G to use,” Cobbs said.

While the financial savings are a blessing, the ecological impact is divine, Cobbs said.

“We see the significance of going green,” he said. “If we can take the energy from the sun its much better for the environment.”

Ewing Mayor Jack Ball congratulated Wilcox on the completion of the new system, which is expected to be up and running in the next few days.

“Bishop Wilcox has done some wonderful work in this community through the years and the installation of this clean, environmentally- friendly energy system demonstrates his ongoing commitment to his fellowship and the community at large,” Ball said….

Our perspective:

Bravo! We are currently speaking to 3 different churches regarding the possibility of installing solar.

Maybe God is leading the charge afterall!!!

Should you be intersted in learning more about your own solar solution or solar possibility, give us a call. 856-857-1230.

You mail also email  george@hbsadvantage.com 

We can show you how to structure your solar investment and take advantage of all the federal and state incentives.

By Diane Mastrull

Pennsylvania will start issuing rebate checks in July to help homeowners offset the cost of installing solar-powered energy systems, but don’t expect an immediate stampede to plug into the sun.

Even with a state rebate of up to 35 percent, on top of maximum federal tax credits of 30 percent, going solar requires a sizable investment. The typical four-kilowatt residential system costs about $35,000.

In all but affluent households, that is an unthinkable expense, says David Blumenfeld – especially now, when “everybody is hurting, everybody is scared about losing their job.”

So he is offering another pathway to the sun.

By offering homeowners the option of leasing solar systems – a deal that would not involve the up-front costs typical of buying such equipment – Blumenfeld’s new company, Urban Eco Electric, hopes to raise a bumper crop of solar panels across Philadelphia’s rowhouse rooftops.

UEE, believed to be one of only a few such companies nationwide, also would guarantee 50 percent decreases in monthly electricity costs for the first two years of a 20-year agreement.

For the subsequent 18 years, customers would pay their current electric rates – as long as their electricity use did not exceed the amount on which that rate was based. The rates would remain frozen even in the likely event of substantial increases, which are expected when utilities start lifting rate caps in 2011.

“At the end of the day, the savings are substantial,” Blumenfeld said of solar leasing.

It is a relatively new green-economy concept, largely confined to California and Connecticut, but expected to “be very prevalent” soon, said Adam Stern, executive vice president of the Gemstone Group Inc., a renewable-energy investment-banking firm in Wayne.

“In fact, my organization is creating a solar-leasing business for Pennsylvania,” Stern said last week. “We are working on a late-summer or early-fall launch.”

After that, Gemstone plans to turn its attention to New Jersey, where grants and loan programs are the financial-assistance options available to homeowners for solar-powered systems.

Gemstone was the architect of Connecticut’s solar-leasing program, which debuted last summer, and is managing its leasing company.

UEE, formed in January, has a staff of three and expects to employ as many as 100 within 18 months as installers, systems monitors, and sales staff are added. The company has been marketing for about a month, canvassing neighborhoods, street fairs, and Earth Day events.

The goal is to get 100 signed contracts within 100 days, said Blumenfeld, 47, a lawyer and real estate broker who lives in Lower Merion. Once that target is reached, installation would begin.

As its name implies, UEE is confining its work to the city. Flat rowhouse roofs and their unobstructed access to the sun make them ideal properties for solar-heating systems, Blumenfeld said.

An added plus is that most city homes use gas for heating and cooking, making it that much more possible to serve 100 percent of a rowhouse’s electricity needs through solar, he said.

Blumenfeld grew up in the city and spent seven years with Grasso Holdings as a partner responsible for acquisitions and new development. With conditions in the development business “dreadful” over the last year, Blumenfeld said, he decided that “it was time to go out and do something new.”

He thought about the solar industry largely because the state legislature had passed in July Gov. Rendell’s $650 million Alternative Energy Funding Act, which allotted $100 million for the solar-rebate program for homes and small businesses.

The more Blumenfeld read about solar initiatives, the more convinced he grew “that everyone was focused on the wrong market – large power-purchase agreements. Going after the residential market seemed a huge opportunity.”

In typical solar-installation deals, customers are told to expect a return on their investments in five to seven years at best. Blumenfeld said that is merely guesswork – and completely irrelevant to those who cannot come up with the money for installation.

How UEE will get a return on its investments is a complex matter of depreciation, tax credits, and use of federal, state, and local incentives. For instance, using the solar electricity generated by its systems, UEE would have the ability to sell renewable-energy certificates to utilities to help them meet renewable-energy-portfolio standards.

Andrew Kleeman, managing partner at Center City-based Eos Energy Solutions, is a solar installer who contends the essentials are not in place to make leasing work “in the foreseeable future.” Still unclear in Pennsylvania, he said, is how solar-leasing companies would access state rebates that are available to homeowners buying solar systems.

Those subsidies are “essential to making the numbers work,” Kleeman said.In the three-story Queen Village rowhouse Peter and Rebecca Lazor live in with their 2-year-old son, $30,000 in green improvements already have been made. They have replaced all the windows, reinsulated the house, and replaced the appliances with energy-efficient models.

Installing a solar-power system “was the next logical move,” said Peter Lazor, 38, an architect. But an out-of-pocket expense of $25,000 to $40,000 “was cost-prohibitive” – they would have to stay in the house far longer than anticipated to derive enough energy savings to justify a loan for the system.

Then along came Blumenfeld with his leasing pitch, an idea Lazor found “really attractive.” Come summer, he hopes to have a rowhouse juiced by the sun.

Our Perspective:

PA has just started it’s solar initiative. A small step indeed but a much needed step.

Should you wanrt to know more about financial structures and other financial opportunities that take advantage of federal and stae incentives, contact:

Hutchinson Business Solutions

You may email us george@hbsadvantage.com