Lawmakers scale back their solar expectations, and hope for a Cuomo boost
State lawmakers and renewable-energy advocates are trying to let a little more sunshine into the state’s energy portfolio.
To do so, they’re scaling back and simplifying a stalled solar bill and attempting to link it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recently launched solar-power initiative.
The hope is that the new strategy will allay concerns about costs associated with more solar investment, garner enough support to get legislation passed this session and position New York to better compete and create more jobs here as investment picks up in neighboring states.
“We’re behind New Jersey, we’re behind Pennsylvania, and we’re going to be behind Massachusetts and Connecticut,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who chairs the Assembly Energy Committee. “Please notice I’m not talking about New Mexico or Arizona or California. These are states in the Northeast with similar economies, similar weather conditions, and we ought to be ahead of that curve.”
In recent years the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act, which called for 5,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2026, has failed to advance, amid disagreements over the best mechanism to boost solar investment and quarrels over costs, which utility companies say would be passed on to their customers.
Last year the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was commissioned to provide an independent cost analysis. The report, released in January, found that a target of 5,000 megawatts of solar power could cost ratepayers as much as $9 billion, and recommended “steady and measured growth.”
A tweaked version of the bill was introduced in the Assembly last month that set more modest targets of 670 megawatts by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2021.
The simplified bill also builds on Cuomo’s NY-SUN initiative. The initiative, which was launched last month, calls for expanding existing state programs to quadruple the yearly installation of customer-sited solar over the next two years and to boost financial incentives for large commercial solar projects.
“The beauty of that is that the first target in 2015 is basically just taking the NY-SUN and the stuff that the Long Island Power Authority and the New York Power Authority are already doing, and makes sure it’s in state law,” said Jackson Morris, a senior policy adviser at Pace University who has been involved in crafting the legislation.
And while the governor’s initiative is short-term in its scope, the legislation sets longer-term targets to provide certainty to the industry, drive long-term growth and lower installation costs over time, Morris added.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The legislation also leaves open how to meet the targets, leaving it to the power authorities, the Public Service Commission and public utility companies to figure out the details. The original bill would have created a market built around solar renewable-energy credits, similar to those set up in New Jersey and other states, but that idea has since been scrapped.
New York, which gets only a tiny fraction of its electricity from solar power, is still one of the top states, ranking 10th with 60 megawatts of installed capacity. That’s up from 23 megawatts the year before, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
But lawmakers and advocates, as well as Cuomo, say New York should take the lead on a national scale.
In neighboring New Jersey, for example, solar generation capacity more than doubled to 313 megawatts last year, ranking it second behind only California.
“I think we’ve got to be more aggressive,” said Sen. George Maziarz, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee. “I mean, New Jersey is way ahead of us in solar development, which means we’re way behind. How can New Jersey be ahead of us in anything?”
Maziarz, who is still sponsoring legislation based on solar renewable-energy credits, is weighing whether to sign on as a cosponsor to the new Assembly bill.
“We’re going to take a look at it,” he said. “Quite frankly, I like the original version. I appreciate NYSERDA’s exhaustive study. I’m not sure that every one of their conclusions was absolutely correct, but it’s a scaled-back version.”
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, arizona, assembly, california, connecticut, Energy Committee, George Maziarz, Jackson Morris, Kevin Cahill, Long Island Power Authority, massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York Power Authority, new york state energy research and development authority, Northeast, NY-SUN Initiative, Pace University, pennsylvania, Public Service Commission, Solar Energy Industries Association, Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act
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