Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Jersey Legislation Aims to Balance Solar Market After SREC Prices Dropped

Not long ago, solar energy was a booming market in New Jersey, as the state became second only to California in the United States for solar production. Municipalities, schools and private home owners were all jumping on the bandwagon and installing solar panels on their roofs, public property and empty fields.
A Trinity worker installs solar panels on a home.

A significant drop in the price of Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, currently has the solar industry in a holding pattern. But legislation sponsored by State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Senator Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) aims to give it a boost.

Currently SRECs — which are earned by solar systems and must be purchased by utility companies, making solar arrays a revenue generator for their owners — are selling at $135. Just last year their value was more than $690.

Senate bill S1925 — also called “the solar rescue bill” — would require utility companies to purchase more each year than are currently needed by law, increasing the demand and therefore increasing the value of the credits.

It will also create a cost ceiling of $325 per certificate beginning in 2014 — so utility companies do not have to pass off massive increases to their ratepayers.

“As the solar industry has boomed over the past few years in New Jersey, it has become an economic engine for good, well-paying construction and installation jobs throughout the state. But with the dramatic fall of solar energy incentive prices, there is a serious concern that development and installation of solar systems will dry up and these hobs will be lost,” Sweeney said in a written statement. “This legislation will stabilize the market and encourage businesses and individuals to continue to purchase and install solar equipment on their property.”

The school district in Pitman installed more than 1,200 solar panels to the high school roof in the summer of 2010, and as the SREC prices have boomed and busted, the district had to change its expectations during its budgeting process.

“We’ve had to make some adjustments,” said Superintendent Pat McAleer. “As you watch the SREC price go down, we’ve had to adjust our revenue expectations downward.”

While the school district is still experiencing a great deal of cost savings from the solar array, it would like to see this legislation pass in order to continue reaping the full benefits of its solar system.

And Pitman is just one of many school districts and municipalities that looked to solar to save money and increase their green-energy initiatives in the past few years.

Woolwich Township is looking to install its solar field, which sits behind the municipal building, but the town’s governing body would also like to see the market rebound and begin producing the same kind of revenue that it used to.

“It will benefit anyone who has solar,” said Mayor Sam Maccarone. “We’re always looking to save costs for our taxpayers, become greener and more cost effective.”

For local energy companies, who will be the ones paying the higher prices if and when the market rebounds, the legislation is not seen as a negative, but rather a way to further increase solar usage.

“Solar has a lot of benefits and has been part of the state’s energy master plan. Our role is to help that come to fruition. We’d support any effort that aims to provide stability to solar energy and the solar market,” said Mike Jennings, a spokesman for PSE&G.

“We believe this bill will help balance the SREC market and will go a long way to minimizing the severe price swings which have slowed the development of the marketplace,” added Atlantic City Electric spokesman Bill Yingling.

The bill passed the state Senate with a vote of 24-7 and s currently making its way through the Assembly.

SOURCE: http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2012/06/legislation_aims_to_balance_so.html

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