State aims to restart LIPA home solar-energy rebates

Gary Minnick, owner of Go Solar Incorporated in

Gary Minnick, owner of Go Solar Incorporated in Aquebogue, examines a solar panel. The state is seeking to restart the LIPA home solar energy rebates. (Oct. 25, 2010) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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New York State is advancing a plan to salvage the Long Island Power Authority's home solar-energy program by shifting $8 million in already-committed federal stimulus funds to restart LIPA's popular solar rebates.

The move was welcomed by solar-panel installers whose orders for new business dried up overnight when LIPA suspended the program Oct. 1 when rebate funds ran out.

"If it happens, it's going to put a lot of solar contractors back to work, especially the smaller guys," said Kevin MacLeod, legislative affairs director for the Long Island Solar Energy Industry Association, which has pushed for additional funding.

Thomas Congdon, who is Gov. David A. Paterson's deputy secretary for energy, said Monday the state made a formal request to the U.S. Department of Energy to redirect funds already committed to large-scale solar projects on Long Island. Federal officials had earmarked $15 million for the large-scale projects, Congdon said, but more than half is uncommitted for this year. Now, it's a matter of federal approval for the shift of $8 million to the home-solar rebates.

"As soon as we get that nod, LIPA will be able to accept applications right away," said Congdon, adding he expects to hear "any day." The process is being overseen by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency.

Local solar-energy companies, which faced uncertainty when the money ran out, were thrilled. "We'd be grateful to receive any additional support we can from the state when it comes to incentivizing solar," said David Schieren, chief executive of EmPower Solar in Island Park. "It's very difficult to sell solar when there is no [LIPA] incentive."

"Getting our salespeople out there with the tools they need to sell systems is a win-win for all of Long Island and will contribute to a robust 2011 installation season," added Scott Maskin co-owner of SUNation Solar Systems in Oakdale, the Island's largest.

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This year, the solar rebate program ate up $22 million by September - an amount that included an additional $6 million grant from the state. The program rebates $1.75 per watt for systems of up to 10,000 watts. Typical systems cost from $20,000 to $60,000. More than 3,300 systems have already been installed on Long Island, and 2010 has been a record year.

A LIPA spokeswoman wasn't available for comment.

McLeod said his only concern is that, given how fast LIPA's last batch of money ran out ($1.75 million in 11 minutes on Oct. 1), he hopes LIPA can make it last through Dec. 31, when LIPA's budget gets replenished for rebates next year.

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