Bill would put New York on a firmer solar track

Peter Boudouvas, of Brookhaven National Lab, showed Peter Boudouvas, of Brookhaven National Lab, showed its 32-megawatt solar farm. (May 12, 2011) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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The Empire State should not be bringing up the rear in any measure of progress. And we should not be eating New Jersey's dust. Yet our neighbor to the west is light-years ahead of us in installing solar panels to generate power. That has to change. Let the sun shine in.

Yes, solar is currently more expensive than power generated by fossil fuels. But natural gas won't stay cheap forever, and oil prices will keep rising, as the cost of solar installations declines. Many in the industry predict solar's cost will equal that of other sources within five or 10 years.

Solar installations will create middle-class jobs that can't be outsourced. As the industry grows, states with serious long-term goals will capture some of that growth. We're not there yet.

It took from 2008 to 2010 for our state to go from 21.8 megawatts of installed solar capacity to 55.5 MW. Then, a Long Island Power Authority initiative led to major installations at Brookhaven National Laboratory and various sites in Suffolk County, and the state reached 100 MW by the end of 2011. But New Jersey installed more than 100 MW, enough to power 100,000 homes, in the first two months of 2012.

In April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo launched a NY-Sun initiative to double annual solar installations and quadruple them by 2013. One element is a two-year LIPA offer to pay 22 cents per kilowatt-hour to solar providers of 50 kwh or more, up to a total of 50 MW. That's a good start.

But solar installers aren't flocking to New York just yet, because Cuomo's plan has a two-year horizon. Businesses want to know a state is serious for the long haul. Jersey, for example, has a goal of 5,000 MW by 2026. Even Pennsylvania, with its abundant coal, is aiming for 850 MW by 2021.

That's why we need the Solar Jobs Act, sponsored by Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). It would set a target of 3,000 MW of solar by 2021. Unlike a previous version, it lets the utilities decide how to hit the goal. Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane) has a similar bill.

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Passage soon would send a signal to the market that New York is in solar to stay. That would attract entrepreneurs, create jobs, and help speed up the day when solar is cheaper than other sources of energy. We'll need a lot of it, so this bill is a big step toward a sunnier outlook for New York.

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