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Fair promotes solar jobs on Long Island

Peter Boudouvas, of Brookhaven National Lab, showed

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

A Farmingdale jobs fair for solar-energy workers Monday served as a platform for local support for a revised state Solar Jobs Act, which would vastly increase the amount of power derived from the sun by 2021.

Labor leaders, environmental advocates and solar-panel installers gathered at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College in support of the bill, introduced by Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) last month.

Sail Van Nostrand, chairman of the Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association, an installer group, said the bill would bolster a growing local industry, with achievable growth targets and rate protection for electric customers.

"We're creating a new industry," he said, noting that Long Island, with the highest percentage of sunshine days in the state, has a rightful place as the industry leader.

"It's jobs, it's economic growth and a new direction. We need leaders in Albany to do something about it," said Van Nostrand, who owns solar-installation company Energy by Choice of Northport.

He praised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's NY-Sun initiative, a two-year plan for bolstering solar power projects announced last month, though he said the state needs a set of longer-term goals.

The Long Island Power Authority funds the biggest solar-power projects in the state, including a 32-megawatt solar farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and helped fund 5,000 solar roofs on Long Island, largely through ratepayers.

The proposed Solar Jobs Act replaces a previous version of the bill that sought a 5,000 megawatt statewide target and mandated a system that awarded tradable credits for solar-energy production. The new measure sets a target of 3,000 megawatts of new solar power to be generated in the state by 2021. One megawatt of solar energy can power 125 homes.

For public utilities such as LIPA and the New York Power Authority, the bill proposes that 900 megawatts be installed in their combined territories by 2021, of which 270 would be in place by 2015. Investor-owned utilities like Con Edison and National Grid's upstate division would contribute a combined 2,100 megawatts of the bill's proposed 3,000, including 400 megawatts by 2015.

For LIPA, the bill would mandate 150 megawatts of new solar power by 2015 and 500 by 2021.

The state Public Service Commission and the utilities would determine how best to reach the targets, and the cost to ratepayers would be limited to 1.5 percent of a utility's total electricity revenue in a given year. For LIPA specifically, that would amount to around $57 million a year. LIPA's current solar budget is $28 million.

Locally, the new bill is supported by the Nassau and Suffolk Building Trades Council, environmental group Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union.

Last month, LIPA chief Michael Hervey announced a program called a feed-in tariff that allows local businesses to sell solar power back to LIPA under long-term contracts, much the same way that local power plants do. He said LIPA expects the number of local homes with solar panels to double over the next three years, to 10,000.

At present, about 40 megawatts of power for the LIPA grid comes from the rooftop installations -- a number Hervey said he expects to jump by 17 megawatts a year.