So far, government rebates — financed by $6-a-year charge to residential ratepayers and a higher charge to businesses — have been the basis for solar's growth in New Jersey. But with a lengthy waiting list for rebates, officials are searching for less expensive ways to expand the state's solar energy initiative.
The state's solar program started in 2001 with six homeowners installing panels that capture the sun's rays and turn them into electricity. Since then the program has grown to over 2,300 installations on homes, businesses, houses of worship and schools, generating about 38 megawatts of electricity — enough energy to power about 4,500 homes. During that period, about 100 solar-related companies have sprouted up.
Some in the industry fear a state Board of Public Utility proposal, which tries to encourage more private investment and move away from direct government subsidies, has serious flaws that may slow or even halt the state's progress in a competitive solar energy marketplace.
(Let's hear it for the fact that we're second to sunny California in production- and beat Arizona! Can I get a Woo-hoo?)
Unfortunately the rebates, which are very generous and have been a great incentive to go solar, are expensive for the taxpayer at large. Moving toward private investment is a good idea, but as Mark Warner, CEO of SunFarm Network, asks about the BPU plan: "Are they going to get it right or are they going to get it wrong?"
They're expected to vote on the plan Aug. 1st, so they have very little time to finish putting it together. It's a sure bet that everyone will be unhappy with some aspect of the new solar plan, but it makes sense to try to move away from an entirely taxpayer-funded rebate.