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A clean-energy gathering will attract hundreds of vendors, buyers and scientistsBIZ SPOTLIGHT – Energy

Think of it as the living results of a Google search on the words “clean energy.” Hundreds of industry insiders from companies, government agencies and research universities will descend on the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick next week for the 2006 New Jersey Clean Energy Conference. Last year’s drew a crowd of 400.

“Attending the conference will help businesses learn how to become part of the renewable energies and energy-efficiency market and take advantage of incentives that we’re offering to lower energy usage and convert to clean energy,” says Anne Marie McShea, spokeswoman for the office of clean energy at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), which will run the event. “If you haven’t been paying attention but are feeling the pain of high energy prices, this is the place to get up to speed.”

The nine-hour information and networking event, which will be Sept. 18, is set to kick off with appearances by Gov. Jon Corzine and executives from General Electric and Johnson & Johnson. There will be panel discussions, exhibits and workshops, including one on financing clean-energy projects. Awards will be handed out to organizations from around the state that are leading the charge to curb the use of fossil fuels.

Dome-Tech Group, last year’s winner of the event’s Clean Energy Market Innovator award, will be returning. The Edison firm was honored for projects that included the installation of ground-mounted solar panels at New Jersey American Water in Cherry Hill, one of the largest such systems in New Jersey.

“Solar does make sense. It’s a good market for New Jersey, which is the leader [among states] on the East Coast and second to only California for total installed solar-energy systems,” says Dome-Tech’s president, Bruce Curtis. “In terms of financial incentives … New Jersey has the best program in the country.”

In addition to the urgency generated by rising fuel costs, state and federal governments have been adding incentives—and some regulatory smacks to the head—to encourage adoption of alternative energy sources. For instance, the BPU established a mandate earlier this year that by 2020, 20% of New Jersey’s electricity must come from so-called class-one renewable sources that include solar, wind and landfill methane. At least 2% of that renewable power will have to be derived from solar sources.

The state has a way to go: As of last month, it had about 1,665 solar-electric systems installed by various entities. According to the BPU, they produce about 0.03% of the state’s electricity.

As for carrots, the federal government provides tax breaks to consumers and businesses that use clean technologies. Locally, the BPU and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority offer low-interest loans, grants and rebates for installing renewable-energy systems and energy-efficient equipment.

The state has also adopted the use of tradable Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which “represent the environmental and/or social benefit of generating one megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity from a renewable source,” says Andrew Kolchins, director of the renewable energy credit compliance desk at Evolution Markets, a brokerage-services firm based in White Plains, N.Y. RECs allow utilities that produce more clean energy than required to sell certificates representing that excess for use by other utilities that can’t meet their local standards.

Kolchins, who will take part in a workshop on REC markets at the conference, says it takes a combination of revenue, federal tax credits and REC income to make producing renewable energy economically viable. “When you generate electricity from, say, a wind facility, you cannot predict when the wind is going to blow,” Kolchins says. “Because of that, the revenue stream from electricity alone will not create the economic feasibility of the project.”

REC buyers shop in two different markets, he says. “In the voluntary market, individuals, companies and universities are voluntarily buying renewable energy credits to support renewable energy.” In New Jersey, for example, “A retail customer of a utility can pay $5 or $10 more per month to support renewables.”

The compliance market involves retail electricity providers that buy or sell RECs to comply with state regulations, he says. In New Jersey, the BPU’s renewable-energy mandate will stimulate the purchase of RECs by utilities that can’t produce enough clean energy on their own, says Kolchins.

But renewable energy isn’t the only game in town. The conference will also pull back the curtain on energy efficiency. Neil Hall, executive vice president for retail banking at PNC Bank, says applying U.S. Green Building Council standards to 28 so-called “green” branches around the country has reduced his institution’s energy bills by 45% on average. Eleven such banks are in New Jersey.

Hall, who will be speaking at one of the conference panel discussions, says PNC’s green branches minimize waste in many ways through practices like using natural light more efficiently and “buying building materials produced locally, which reduces the pollutants and costs associated with transporting them.”

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