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PSEG to retain local control of LI solar rebate program

A strong push by Long Island solar-energy companies to retain local control of a solar-panel rebate program has led the state to pull back on a plan that would have shifted administration to Albany.

As part of a nearly $1 billion NY-Sun initiative announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office Thursday, PSEG Long Island will remain in the driver's seat to manage the program from Long Island, working with a new block program being implemented by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The new program is to take effect June 1.

Local solar installers pushed hard to keep the program locally run, officials said, because they were concerned that shifting control of tens of millions in annual rebate dollars would lead it to dry up quickly.

"NYSERDA met with various Long Island stakeholders throughout the design of the [new] Megawatt Block Program and is being responsive to feedback received to have a local program administrator" in PSEG, NYSERDA spokeswoman Kate Muller said.

"This is great," said Kevin MacLeod, vice chairman of the Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association, a local solar group. "We'll be able to keep local control of the program."

PSEG also expressed a strong interest in keeping the program locally run, said Michael Voltz, its director of energy efficiency and renewables.

"PSEG can continue to operate programs that we think we operate pretty well," Voltz said.

Local installers met with NYSERDA officials in March to express concerns about the program moving to Albany. They also expressed concerns that the $28 million NYSERDA had budgeted for the program wasn't enough to keep it going for long, particularly with a 30 percent federal tax credit scheduled to expire in 2016 at about the time the $28 million would run out.

NYSERDA, in response, raised the funding for the program to $60 million, enough to last as long as four years.

PSEG will work with NYSERDA to roll out a new way to offer rebates to customers. Called a Megawatt Block Program, it will provide rebates of a specific amount, starting with 50 cents a DC watt, until the region has provided rebates for a specified block of power -- 10 megawatts, for instance. Once that milestone is reached, the rebate will be reduced to 40 cents per watt.

PSEG also is expected to introduce on-bill financing for customers to buy solar power. It will involve a low-interest state loan to help finance the often high costs of the system, with loan payments on customers' utility bills that could not exceed electric costs before installation of solar systems.

PSEG also will work to develop solar programs for lower-income customers, Voltz said.

Voltz said the block rebate program is expected to last as long as four years under that scenario. Many installers prefer the program because it adds stability after years of fits and starts as money ran out and rebates were cut, sometimes drastically.

The new program also will allow homes to receive rebates for systems up to 25,000 watts, compared to the current 10,000 watts. Eligible commercial systems can be up to 200,000 watts compared to the current 100,000 watts, Voltz said.

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