Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In NJ--and abroad--moves to throttle solar energy

Faced with a crisis in plunging values for credits paid to businesses managers and homeowners who install solar energy systems, New Jersey regulators are recommending an extension of long-term, utility-sponsored programs but at a rate that critics say is inadequate.

A straw proposal being recommended to the Board of Public Utilities by the Office of Clean Energy would providing for an additional 120 megawatts of solar capacity over three years.

That would amount to about 40 megawatts each year, less than half of what was installed last month (84 megawatts) in New Jersey's overheated solar sector, reports NJ Spotlight.

"It's not enough to do anything to prevent a collapse in the solar market," said Lyle Rawlings  of Advanced Solar Products, Inc., a Flemington-based solar developer. "We're extremely concerned."

Rawlings said the 120-megawatt expansion recommended by the straw proposal falls far short of what is necessary to soak up the oversupply of solar credits. "We believe a minimum of 450 megawatts is needed, and even that doesn't close the gap between supply and demand," he said.

The straw proposal is also unclear whether the state will ramp up the requirement that power suppliers provide more of their electricity from solar projects, Rawlings said.

"If they are only proposing to expand utility programs another 120 megawatts, a lot of homeowners, schools, towns and churches will be unable to pay off the bonds for their solar systems," he said.

Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand, however, described the straw proposal as reasonable. "It's not too much," said Brand, whose division has been wary about expanding solar programs because the solar credits are ultimately paid off by ratepayers.

"It's a better solution than some of the things that have been proposed," she said, referring to a couple of industry-recommended compromises. "Ratepayer subsidies never have been intended to subsidize this industry for the long term. That wasn't the deal."

[Editor's Note: See yesterday's video interviews with Stefanie Brand and other key players in the debate over the future of offshore wind energy projects in NJ] 

Solar energy also making environmental news in Europe

Political tension over energy policy, particularly government incentives to promote solar, wind, and other alternative energy providers, is growing--not only in the United States but also in Europe.

In Germany, solar-energy advocates and several major trade unions are accusing the center-right government of undermining Germany’s historic Energiewende, or energy transition, according to a report in Renewable Energy World

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the government shut down half of its nuclear power plants and pledged to accelerate the country’s transition to renewable energies.
 Yet, nearly a year down the road, there is still no overreaching strategy for Germany to meet the ambitious targets it set for itself, including having 36 percent of its electricity generated by green sources in 2020. Moreover, in recent weeks the government announced a draft law that includes hefty reduction in the subsidies that solar power receives from its Feed-in Tariff.
A second element in the draft law shifts responsibility for the amount of renewable electricity eligible for support from parliament to the ministries. This has Energiewende proponents worried that investors will be subject to short-term ministry decisions that will undermine security of planning and financing of projects.

What do you think about government's role in encouraging solar, wind, biomass and other alternative energy developers? Let us know in the comment box below. If one is not visible, activate it by clicking on the tiny 'comment' line.'

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