Thursday, April 10, 2008

Solar energy heats up in New Jersey again

Between 2001 and 2006, New Jersey was a pioneering, national leader in solar energy. Much more so than many southern and western states where the sun shines brighter and more often.

Encouraged by generous state rebates, solar panel installations at New Jersey businesses and homes went from 9 projects (with 6 kW) in 2001 to over 1,000 projects (with 19 MW) in 2006.

But the program proved so wildly popular that rebate applications became backlogged and the state's Board of Public Utilities (BPU) recognized that there wasn't enough money to keep the juggernaut going. So the BPU announced it was phasing out the rebates and switching to a program in which those installing solar energy systems would qualify instead for credits.

But credits, earned after a homeowner or business has already paid the often expensive price of a solar system installation, was likely to dampen consumer interest and jeopardize the state's goal of generating 20 percent of its energy from alternative sources by 2020, with 2 percent of that coming from solar systems.

Riding to the rescue this week was the state's largest electric utility, Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), which announced an agreement with the BPU to launch a two-year pilot program in which it will make $105 million in loans available to customers installing solar systems. The loans will cover between 40 and 60 percent of the installation cost, with the rest funded by the property owner.

Owners would repay the loans through credits they receive for the solar power their systems generate. The interest PSE&G charges for the loans will not fully cover the program's costs, so the BPU will allow the utility will tack a surcharge on every customer's bill to make up the difference, including a return on investment of 9.75 percent. (I wish all my investments had such a nice return)

In the near term, the loans, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, should provide a significant boost to the solar energy industry--both equipment manufacturers and commercial installers.

The BPU suggests that those interested in applying for a loan should first obtain quotes from several reputable installation contractors. The Board maintains a list of approved contractors on its website. Click on the "Find A Vendor" button at:

Clicking on that link will open a page on which the Board, inexplicably, demands that you first "agree to the terms of a disclaimer." (I'm not kidding). Just humor them and agree by clicking and the list will be yours.

For more information on the program, don't go anywhere near the BPU's website. It's attractive enough but it appears to have been written by a committee of lawyers, electrical engineers and government bureaucrats all determined to stultify each other to death.

Instead, go to PSE&G's Solar Loan Program site and particularly it's Frequently Asked Questions page where it's all laid out for you in mercifully clear and understandable English.

To read about an even more aggressive program announced by Southern California Edison, check out: California Utility to Install Solar Panels

And to learn about a comparatively sluggish program proposed in New York by Mayor Bloomberg, check out New York City's 2MW Solar Plan Is No Done Deal

Have an opinion on all or any of this that you'd like to share? Click on the "comment" link below and have at it.

Subscribe here to view all our YouTube videos

Repost this article