State to increase solar rebate budget

A view of the solar array of 164,312 A view of the solar array of 164,312 panels on nearly 200 acres in Manorville, known as the Long Island Solar Farm, that produce 32 Kw of power. (Nov. 18, 2011) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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New York State will more than double to $60 million a previously announced budget for Long Island solar rebates as the state takes over control of a program formerly run by LIPA.

The additional funding could help extend the Solar Pioneer program, which provide rebates of thousands of dollars for home, business and government solar-power installations, beyond its previously expected end date of 2017.

"The proposed working plan has the potential to extend the program beyond 2017, but consumer demand will dictate funding availability," said Kate Muller, a spokeswoman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which oversees the program. Muller said the overall plan is pending State Public Service Commission approval.

Local solar installers said the increase would go a long way toward propping up a program that has seen frequent funding disruptions. "The only way to look at this is more is better," said Scott Maskin, president of Sunation Solar Systems, an installer in Oakdale and Southampton.

When NYSERDA first proposed taking over the former Long Island Power Authority's pioneer solar programs earlier this year, it committed only $28 million and said it expected the funds to last until 2017. After that, the industry was expected to be able to operate without state subsidies, officials said.

LIPA's previous annual budget for the renewables program was more than $30 million, but when PSEG Long Island took over management of the electric system this year, it was reduced to $11.1 million.

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Muller said the increase in funding, and an allowance to cover larger systems for homes and businesses than LIPA previously did, was made "after receiving considerable feedback from the market . . . " Some were concerned that NYSERDA's decision to cut off funding in 2017 was too early.

Money for the programs comes from charges levied on power plants by the state through the regional greenhouse gas initiative. Long Island residents pay part of those costs through fees levied on plants and passed on to utilities through rates.

NYSERDA is working on a plan to provide separate funding for solar rebates for lower- and middle-income customers. Local installers said as much as $28 million has been discussed for a possible budget statewide. Muller said the authority "established a working group to discuss the barriers and challenges that might preclude low- to moderate-income households from having a higher adoption rate" of such systems.

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NYSERDA is also expected to begin on-bill financing for Long Island solar systems as soon as this month, local installers say. The plan provides a low-interest loan to cover upfront cost of the systems, with loan payments on customers' utility bill that could not exceed electric costs prior to installation of solar systems.

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