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State to provide $3 million to restart home battery rebate program

Installation of solar panels on the roof of

Installation of solar panels on the roof of a home in North Massapequa by SUNation Systems. Credit: Chris Ware

New York State will provide $3 million to restart a program that offered thousands of dollars in rebates toward the purchase of home solar panels paired with battery-storage systems that can power a home when the grid is down.

But in a twist, the revised program is expected to come with a provision that would allow a utility to draw power from customers’ batteries during certain peak-use times — a huge benefit to the local grid to ease bottlenecks and help offset peak-power demand.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, in a statement to Newsday Tuesday, said the $3 million in new funding "includes a requirement for customers to register for the Dynamic Load Management program," which allows a utility to draw from the batteries during certain peak-use times.

"We expect this additional funding to be available in the coming month," the state agency said.

The prior $4 million solar-battery rebate program ran out this summer after Long Island customers installed hundreds of the systems in the past year, local installers said. The batteries, made by companies such as Tesla and LG Energy Solution, have become a staple of local solar-installation sales with some installers saying around 20% of home solar system sales include batteries.

The battery rebate program’s expiration this summer put on hold what had become a bustling market for storage systems combined with solar panels. Homes that have the systems can power varying levels of appliances and electronics even when the grid is down following storms or other service disruptions.

The rebate program is administered by PSEG Long Island, working with the NYSERDA, which provided the funding. PSEG spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler, in a written statement, said the utility was "working closely with NYSERDA to launch an additional round of funding for battery storage," but declined to comment further.

Under the plan as it has been run for more than a year, customers could receive rebates upward of $5,000 on systems costing around $24,000, installers said. The utility also offers a voluntary program for battery-storage owners that allows them to receive upward of $200 a year for making their stored energy available for the grid.

David Schieren, chief executive of Empower Solar in Island Park, said he supports the idea that the battery rebates would be tied to making a users’ battery available for the grid during limited peak-use times.

"They’re saying, ‘Let’s make sure we’re tying rebates to resiliency and a more dynamic grid," Schieren said, noting that batteries are sold with about 20% of the solar systems his company installs. His only caveat was that the program be made simple for customers to understand.

Customers who sign up for the voluntary utility battery-use program now make their batteries available when the utility requests and can get compensated $100 to $200 a year. Schieren said.

Shieren said the rebates in the past were a significant incentive for sales. For a 27-kilowatt hour system, the gross cost of around $23,900 gets reduced by $5,000 from the rebate, then another $4,900 from a federal tax credit of 26%. The net cost, he said, could be around $13,900.

Once PSEG and LIPA finalize a suite of new time-of-use rates for Long Island customers, the advantage of having a home battery or two will become even more apparent, Schieren said. Those customers will be able to charge their batteries at night at cheaper rates, and have its power available for the peak-use day times, when grid energy is at a higher cost. But the best use of the battery systems, he said, is to charge the battery with solar during the day, and to use that stored power during the afternoon and evening, thus avoiding peak-use charges.

Scott Maskin, chief executive of SUNation Solar Systems of Ronkonkoma, said his company has already begun taking tentative orders based on the anticipated availability of the new rebate. He said his primarily solar installation and service company is transitioning to make batteries a primary component of its sales.

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