The head of a group of solar energy firms told state officials this week that more stability — and less red tape — is needed to help revive the state’s spooked solar industry.
Dennis Wilson, president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, spoke during a three-and-a-half-hour stakeholder meeting hosted by the state’s Clean Energy Program on Thursday in Trenton.
The meeting was to discuss the future of the state’s solar industry and solar renewable energy certificate incentive program. SREC program lets owners of solar arrays earn credits for the green energy they generate. Those credits can be purchased by the state’s electricity suppliers, which are required by law to include a set amount of green energy in their portfolios. Power suppliers can meet those mandates by generating their own green energy, buying up SRECs or paying a penalty.
Lately, though, SREC supply has caught up with demand, causing credit prices to tumble.
“Unless we are able to either create some stability under the price of SRECs, or move forward more demand for SRECs by moving forward some of the annual requirements, we’re facing a situation where companies will either go out of business or lay off employees sometime soon,” Wilson said in a phone interview Friday.
Wilson said some projects already are stalled because of the uncertainty.
Aside from changes to the SREC market, Wilson said, other potential helps include expanding programs like PSE&G‘s solar loan program, which allows property owners to finance their solar arrays with a loan repaid by the SRECs the project generates.
Wilson said another change that might help stabilize the market would be to take large-scale solar projects — such as solar farms or large rooftop solar projects — out of the SREC system.
“That electricity should be sold into a state wholesale marketplace at a fixed price for 20 years,” he said.
Such a system already is in place in many foreign countries, he said. Doing so here would give the state — and ratepayers — more stability, he said.
Wilson was just one of many speakers at the event, each grappling with issues of how to keep the relatively new industry on firm footing.
One positive sign — for the industry and ratepayers — is that the price of solar equipment has plummeted. Wilson said it’s down about 50 percent over the past three years, bringing the cost of going solar closer to the cost of traditional energy.
Wilson was just one of many speakers at the event, a first step in what is likely to be a lengthy period of policy discussions about how to get the solar industry on firm footing. Because the industry is still reliant on state mandates and state and federal incentives, many of the challenges facing solar are new and unique.
But Wilson said there’s at least one issue that’s common in just about every industry — too much paperwork.
“The bidding programs for SREC contracts by the electrical utilities are working reasonably well for medium and large commercial projects, but they’re not working as well for residential or small commercial projects,” he said. “They take a lot of time, and they’re paperwork intensive. So there’s too much friction in the process.”
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