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A hot market cools as nearby states launch incentives

In a state where competitiveness is a constant buzzword and constant challenge, the solar energy industry used to be a bright spot.
The state was generally considered second only to California, and briefly enjoyed the status of being the hottest commercial solar market in the United States.

Now, however, New Jersey arguably isn’t even the hottest market in the region.

“New Jersey is a challenged market, to be candid with you,” said Bryan Miller, vice president of public policy and power markets at Sunrun Inc., a California firm that finances solar projects across the country.

Miller said it’s hard to compare one state to another, since each state has a different incentive for solar energy, if any. But he said the instability of the state’s solar renewable energy certificate incentive makes it less attractive than some other states.

“New York has a very stable solar market, with just an up-front rebate,” he said. “I think it would be better to convert to something that’s more stable in the long-term.”

Many solar firms that sprouted up in New Jersey have now turned to other states as their growth markets.

“Throughout the downturn we’ve stayed committed to New Jersey,” said Jamie Hahn, managing partner of Solis Partners, a Manasquan-based developer. “But we’re certainly beginning to move forward and developing a pipeline of projects in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.”

He said Rhode Island, the District of Columbia and North Carolina also have strong solar markets.

Though it’s not the strongest market anymore, Miller said New Jersey does have some advantages by being a trailblazer in solar.

“One of the strongest parts about the New Jersey solar market is that solar is widely understood by the customer base,” he said.

Figuring out how solar and its complicated incentives work isn’t easy, Miller said. And it’s easier to sell in a market where the public is familiar with the industry.

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