Monday, March 9, 2009

Renewable energy looking for a jolt in New Jersey

Some 200 solar energy companies facing increased funding challenges in dismal economic times--and a smaller number of businesses offering energy efficiency services--could be in for a big boost thanks to the federal stimulus package.

NJBIZ reports today that about $90 million of federal stimulus money will go toward the State Energy Program for energy saving projects in renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels, according to the state Board of Public Utilities.

An additional $121.9 million will be provided through the Weatherization Assistance Program to improve energy efficiency in low-income housing units — an investment that could help to create more than 9,000 jobs in the state, according to some estimates.

“For a company like ours, it could more than double the work that we can do, and more than double the revenues we would otherwise be anticipating,” said S. Lynne Sutcliffe, chief executive of The EnergySolve, an energy services company based in Somerset, NJ. The company plans additional hiring, as well; it employs 50 at present.

For several years, New Jersey's solar-installation market was red hot due to extremely generous subsidies offered by the BPU for commercial and residential projects. When the money ran out, business fell off. The drying up of bank credit in the nation's current economic crisis has only made matters worse.

The stimulus funds, channeled through the BPU's NJGreen program (currently undergoing changes) could help to stabilize, if not revive, the state's alternative-energy industry.

Ed Seliga, vice president of Advanced Solar Products of Hopewell, NJ, the largest installer of solar power systems in the Mid-Atlantic region, said the proposed program could allow businesses to receive federal funds within a few months, shortening the payback period — the time between making an investment and realizing financial benefits — by a year. As a result, businesses “would borrow far less,” he said.

For New Jersey's young alternative energy businesses, that's not only a promising development, it may be an essential one.

Are you involved in an alternative energy business? Give us your thoughts on the current situation and what can/should be done. Use the comment box below. If you don't see one, click on the tiny 'comments' line below and it will appear.

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