Oil is over $110 a barrel and shows no signs of dropping. Electric rates are rising, business and families are struggling to afford the ever increasing costs of living here in New York. Concerns recently have been raised anew about the Indian Point nuclear power plant under the "what if " scenarios that unfortunately we must prepare for in a post-9/11 and now, a post-Japanese-nuclear-catastrophe world.
Throughout the region, people are questioning whether a nuclear power plant so close to a major population center makes sense. Yet, we need power and it must come from someplace so what are we to do?
I suggest that while it may not be the total answer, solar power offers a reasonable alternative that will reduce our dependence upon Indian Point if only we take appropriate action. If we were to look to our neighbors just a few miles to the south, we will find that New Jersey has become a national leader in the use of solar electric power. In fact New Jersey is second only to California in the number of megawatts that are produced through solar annually. Why?
In New Jersey, unlike New York, a serious policy is in place to incentivize the creation of solar by the issuance of Solar Renewable Energy Credits or SREC’s for short. The various power authorities are required to acquire and claim a specified number of megawatts created through solar each year. The power authorities do so by purchasing SRECS on the open market from large and small producers. Since the establishment of SRECS, New Jersey has become a leader in the creation of solar second only to California. Last year alone, 100 megawatts of power was installed in New Jersey. The entire amount of solar power in operation throughout all of New York State is 54 Megawatts, half of what New Jersey brought on line last year alone.
How does it happen? Well SRECS lower the return on investment and mandate that utilities must provide a minimum percentage of all power through solar within the area they serve. This makes the cost of installing solar cheaper as a market is created to buy and sell SRECS that makes the return on investment more attractive to investors. Thus, it becomes a much more affordable number for homeowners and businesses to add solar. New Jersey and its power authorities work to promote solar as they are mandated to have specified amounts of power produced by solar to reduce the burden on the grid.
In the end the ratepayers benefit as the electric grid is not as burdened during peak periods and utilities do not have to bear the full cost of added infrastructure to create more power. Homeowners and businesses benefit as SRECS make solar more affordable. In addition, with recent advances, the cost of solar has dropped; according to one recent nationwide study solar is 30 percent cheaper than it was just eight years ago.
Thankfully, New York is getting the point and legislation is proposed that will create SRECS and set goals for the creation of solar within New York. Senator George Maziarz (R)Niagara County proposed bill S4178—referred to as the "New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011"—passed the New York State Assembly on April 13 and is currently before the Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee awaiting further action. The goals of the bill are lofty and stated as follows:
“This legislation creates the Solar Renewable Energy Credit Program, which is designed to stimulate the installation and generation of solar energy in New York State. A Renewable Energy Credit model provides investment stability through long term contracts and competitive bidding in open auctions. This program will enable the New York State to fulfill the goal set by the Governor's Renewable Energy Task Force of the installation 100 MW of solar by 2011.”
This is good news for New Yorkers as solar energy, if promoted, will save consumers money and provide a realistic vehicle for economic growth and development. While solar may not be able to replace the production of Indian Point, it will reduce reliance upon it and satisfy increasing demand during peak hours. While some will focus solely on the environmental benefits that solar offers, I prefer to focus on the larger picture and realize that it is just as good for business and job creation as well as tax and ratepayers' wallets as it is for the environment.
This is especially true when SRECS and goals are established that will encourage significant investment in the creation of solar. It is for these reasons that groups as diverse as the Sierra Club and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have been supportive of SRECS and a more realistic policy to promote the creation of solar.
According to the proponents of S4178, if enacted, New York will go from 54 Megawatts of Solar power production today to 5,000 Megawatts by 2025. In so doing it is estimated that 22,000 solar industry jobs in New York State will be created. The cost of electricity will be hedged and small and large scale solar projects will be open for SRECS.
This is to say that the typical homeowner meeting the criteria will be afforded the opportunity to “sell the right” to claim the SREC to the utility and receive payment annually. This revenue will be in addition to the savings that the homeowner will obtain from the production of solar power. This double dip will significantly reduce the length of time it will take to recoup the cost to install solar thus prompting home and business owners to seriously consider solar.
In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg announced last week his intention to create solar power plants atop capped landfills capable of generating power to supply 50,000 single family homes. In so doing these solar plants will eventually phase out the city’s reliance on emergency generators that burn petroleum-based fuel on hot summer days when electricity demand is at its peak. The New York City efforts are to be applauded and demonstrate what solar can actually do if encouraged.
In Clarkstown, I proposed the idea that we utilize our former landfill as host to a large scale solar project. We have been studying this idea for some time and have some obstacles to overcome to make this a possibility. Among the hurdles is financing the money required to construct a 1 Megawatt or larger solar project capable of supplying power to a thousand or more homes. However, if SRECs were to be added to the equation it would significantly improve the business model and might attract investors that would be willing to venture into a public private partnership to create a solar field at our former landfill. Other obstacles exist that would still need to be overcome, but SRECS would go a long way in making it possible.
In New York City, former landfills will host solar fields to create enough electricity to power 50,000 homes; we have approximately 28,000 residences within Clarkstown. Exactly how many homes and businesses in Clarkstown could benefit from a project of this nature is not yet determined, but it is possible and is closer to an eventual reality if SRECS are available to investors to defray the cost.
I encourage all to contact the Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee and Senator Carlucci's office to request that S4178 be passed this session so that SRECS and more affordable solar power become a reality in New York State.