Amundsen: Solar can help break oil habit
Robert Amundsen is the director of the master of science in energy management program at New York Institute of Technology.
As the sun sets on Albany's current lawmaking session, the New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act is working its way through the legislature.
The bill, introduced by Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket), would create a solar energy credit system for all solar power producers, from homeowners and businesses to large operators and utilities. According to some estimates, it would generate $20 billion in economic activity statewide and create more than 22,000 jobs by 2025. It would mandate that utility companies increase the amount of solar energy they buy, with the goal of installing 5,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2025. That's enough to power more than half a million homes.
Meanwhile, researchers at General Electric predict that solar power may be less expensive than nuclear and fossil sources within five years. And Germany recently announced that it will phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022, replacing that energy with renewable sources, including solar.
So the time has come for New York and New Yorkers to more fully embrace solar energy. Solar is a viable option for Long Islanders with both economic and environmental concerns. We may seem to have a lot of cloudy days here, but even under gray skies, solar collectors still capture about half the sun's energy that shines on them.
With oil prices hovering near $100 per barrel, solar energy at last is practical for Long Islanders paying utility bills. Decades of investment and demonstration projects are finally paying off. The solar energy industry, long the province of backyard tinkerers, has plenty of experienced contractors and satisfied customers in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
After utility rebates and tax credits, the electricity savings generally pay for a household system in eight years -- sometimes fewer. Most solar panels have a 25-year warranty, so the remaining 17 years of electricity from the panels is "free." Ironically, the high cost of electricity on Long Island makes solar energy systems more economical. For example, a 5.2-kilowatt solar system (enough power for a small Nassau or Suffolk house), will cost about $10,000 after tax credits and rebates, and produce about $1,300 per year worth of electricity.
As added economic incentive, home buyers will generally pay more for a "green" home with energy-saving features. One recent study suggests that the same 5.2-kilowatt system would increase the value of a home by about $20,000.
Money savings is just part of the appeal. Solar electric systems are quiet, reliable and nonpolluting, with minimal maintenance.
All sorts of renewable energy hold great promise. More than 130 representatives of universities, business and government gathered at New York Institute of Technology's annual energy conference in Old Westbury earlier this month to discuss technologies that go "beyond carbon." Some possibilities, such as offshore wind farms, may be in our distant future. In solar's case, the future is here. It sidesteps so many of the energy concerns that fill the headlines: global warming, offshore oil spills, fracking, radioactive meltdowns. Besides, it reduces our dependence on countries that are far from democratic.
Employing solar installers to capture energy from our own rooftops will help keep our dollars right here on Long Island, driving the local economy and reducing our vulnerability to the price spikes and pollution of fossil fuels.
As the legislative session concludes, the solar bill's goal to "create a solar energy enterprise that will elevate the state to be among the world's cutting-edge clean energy industry leaders" promises a brighter energy and economic future for all of us.