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LIPA's solar rebate program gets $6-million boost

The Long Island Power Authority's popular but oversubscribed solar rebate program will get a $6-million boost from money raised through the sale of pollution credits to power plants, state energy officials said Wednesday.

The money will help LIPA handle an end-of-year influx of applications that would have exhausted the agency's 2009 solar rebate funds. LIPA chief executive Kevin Law said the agency budgeted $12.5 million for the program this year, "but we'll spend closer to $17 million."

The surge of interest follows an announcement last month that on Jan. 1 LIPA would scale back rebates for solar installations at homes and businesses from $3.50 per watt to $2.75 per watt. The change would reduce rebates for larger solar projects by tens of thousands of dollars.

"LIPA has experienced unprecedented demand," said Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. "They needed a cash infusion to ensure that the program could continue."

The funds come from New York's participation in a regional program intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The multistate agreement sets caps on carbon dioxide emissions and requires power plants to buy pollution credits.

The quarterly auctions have raised $180 million so far in New York. NYSERDA administers the proceeds, which are supposed to fund renewable energy projects and energy efficiency programs. This month state lawmakers approved Gov. David A. Paterson's plan to use $90 million from the fund to help balance the state budget, drawing the ire of environmentalists.

Gordon said using the proceeds to shore up LIPA's rebate program would help sustain the region's burgeoning solar industry. Over 10 years LIPA has issued more than $55 million in rebates for solar equipment. Some 2,300 residential customers have received them, as have 130 commercial and municipal customers.

Thursday LIPA trustees will be asked to vote on a combined 50-megawatt solar project, expected to become the largest solar power project in the state. Arrays will be set up at Brookhaven National Lab and in Suffolk County office parking lots from Riverhead to Brentwood.

The project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years.

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