State to provide funding for LIPA solar rebates

The North Hempstead Town Board will hold a The North Hempstead Town Board will hold a special hearing tonight to discuss adding solar panels at two old landfills. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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New York State will provide $5 million in funding for LIPA's cash-strapped residential solar rebate program, which was suspended last month after its budget ran out.

LIPA will begin accepting new applications again for its popular rebate beginning Sept. 23, after the state pledged the funding through the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency. The money comes from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's NY-Sun program through Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auction proceeds, LIPA and the state said in an announcement Monday.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said the authority expects the $5 million will maintain the program through the end of the year, though some installers said they thought it would last weeks or a month at most, given pent-up demand.

LIPA said it has seen triple the number of applications for the rebate, which has traditionally helped pay for from a third to half the cost of systems that can range to $48,000. Some 6,600 LIPA residential customers have solar panels on their roofs.

LIPA said it would reinstate a rebate of 66 cents per watt for systems, with the top rebate on the largest systems of 10 kilowatts being $6,600.

One reason for the flood of new applications is that LIPA in January began allowing leasing companies to apply for the rebates, opening the floodgates for large national companies to enter a market long dominated by smaller local installers who primarily sell systems outright. Leasing programs typically do not require a large financial outlay when the system is installed, and offer consumers discounts on their energy bills after systems are installed on their roofs.

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One longtime solar installer who sells systems predicted next Monday will see a flood of rebate requests. "The 23rd is going to be a big day," said Ken Sanger, owner of Solar Dad and Sons of Smithtown. It's great to have the extra $5 million, but it's going to go to the leasing companies. What can you do? It's an unfortunate thing."

He suggested separating the pots of funding for leasing and sold systems.

Gross said LIPA will not divide the $5 million between leased and sold systems. Leasing companies favor a market approach that allows customer purchases to determine how the rebate money is allocated.

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When it suspended the program Aug. 30, LIPA said it may do away with the rebate entirely depending on how sales went without it. Asked if LIPA was still considering such a move, Gross said, "There will be funding for renewables [programs] in LIPA's 2014 budget."

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