Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's in store for New Jersey's solar-energy industry?

Panel discussion at NJBIZ Solar Energy Symposium 2012

[Updated on 2/19/12 to add two new related stories]

[Be sure to see our video interview below with Al Matos
of PSE&G and Assemblyman
Upendra Chivukula]

Generous federal credits and supportive state policies have helped to create a thriving solar-energy industry in New Jersey--evident today at a Solar Energy Symposium sponsored by NJBIZ that attracted a crowd of more than 500 in Somerset County.

Looking out at the SRO crowd at one of the morning forums on which he was a panelist, Sun Farm Network's Mark Warner joked that, just a few years ago, he could get together with all of the state's solar energy business leaders, share a single pizza, and still have a few slices left over.

Today, New Jersey has even surpassed sunny California in the number of some installed solar systems and many companies here are aggressively pursuing commercial and residential clients. Several dozen of them--and related services like law firms, accountants and construction companies--were behind the booth at exhibits today promoting their businesses.

But troubling clouds are gathering and many of the public questions and private conversations today reflected a sense of industry insecurity and anxiety.

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What's troubling New Jersey's booming solar energy industry?

Among the factors that keep industry members awake at night are these:

  • Federal subsidies are about to end and the value of credits paid for solar energy is plunging.
  • The state has a new Energy Management Plan and an unfamiliar new man, Bob Hanna, at the helm at the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the agency that sets policy for energy and regulates all energy providers.
  • The state legislature, the BPU, and the administration of Governor Chris Christie are not yet on the same page when it comes to the degree of support the state should provide to alternative energy providers like solar and offshore wind.
  • Businesses with large energy demands are rebelling against government mandates that encourage solar but, in so doing, increase their cost of  electricity. 

While the forums at today's event may not have supplied many definitive answers about the industry's future, they did help to define the challenges that lie ahead.  Bottom line: It's a complex business. Positions are evolving. Stay tuned.

EnviroPolitics had a few questions for two NJBIZ event panelists, PSE&G's Al Matos and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula. Their answers contained some interesting details. Click on the arrow in the center of the photo below to view the video interview.


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