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NYSERDA solar loan program extended one more year

A program that provides state-backed loans for residential solar panels and other green energy fixes with the loans repaid on monthly utility bills has been given a one-year reprieve as part of the newly enacted state budget.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Wednesday sent messages to solar installers and others announcing extension of the popular program through March 31, 2016. It had been scheduled to expire Wednesday for all but moderate-income customers, but last-minute negotiations had the program added to the state budget.

The program was enacted for residential solar panel installations on Long Island only last year, but the state quickly announced restrictions, limiting the loans to low- to moderate-income customers. NYSERDA explained at the time that it did so to "avoid directly competing with newly emerging and growing private sector solutions."

But the decision quickly led to a backlash by green-energy companies that had seen an influx of customers to the loan program. Kevin MacLeod, who operates Bay Shore-based KPS Solar, has been in Albany this week urging legislators to extend it.

MacLeod on Wednesday said he was "elated" that the program had been extended. He said his company was faced with laying off workers if the extension had not been approved.

Assembly members Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster) and Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) worked on extending the program, he said.

The loan program, administered through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Green Jobs-Green New York initiative, provides loans of up to $25,000 at annual interest rates as low as 3.49 percent to pay the cost of solar installations, as well as for other energy efficiency improvements and related work. Customers pay the loans back on their monthly energy bills, which cannot increase more than they had been before the installation.

Solar panels can reduce an energy bill to near zero, so most of the monthly payment pays off the long-term loan. The NYSERDA loans are paid back over five, 10 or 15 years.

The NYSERDA messages Wednesday confirmed extension of the program "for all customers previously eligible" for it.

NYSERDA said it planned to review the program over the next year to enact possible changes next year. NYSERDA declined to comment, referring questions to the state Budget Office. The office noted that the loans are for solar and energy efficiency projects for homeowners, small businesses, not-for-profit organizations and multifamily building owners, according to spokesman Morris Peters.

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