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Long Island

Solar-energy systems on LI show record growth

Solar panels are installed by SUNation Solar Systems

Solar panels are installed by SUNation Solar Systems at a construction site at 3 Seaview Blvd. in Port Washington on Monday, April 7, 2014.

Solar-energy installations are on track for a record year on Long Island as customers work through a new system to take advantage of recently enacted state funding plans.

This year's growth is expected to push total installed solar systems on the Island to just shy of 10,000 by year's end -- a milestone for the 15-year-old program.

PSEG Long Island, which is managing the former LIPA program, says it expects to finish the year with 2,500 new home and commercial solar-panel systems installed, a 50 percent jump from last year's record of 1,625.

Mike Voltz, PSEG's director of energy efficiency and renewables, said rebates are being sought at such a high rate that a new state-funded program is about to exhaust the first of four funding blocks set aside for Long Island rebates. That will trigger a planned reduction in the rebate amount to 40 cents a watt from a current 50 cents. For a 10,000-watt system, the total rebate would be reduced to around $4,000, from a current $5,000.

The rebates are provided by the state through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which has set aside $60 million for Long Island. Once customers have expended four blocks of around $15 million each, solar rebates are expected to end on the Island. Some installers fear that could be a year or two away.

One part of the increased sales of systems was the launch this summer of on-bill financing for solar, which allows customers to repay state-backed loans for systems through their PSEG electric bill. New bills can't exceed the prior electric-only bills before solar system installations.

Voltz said the numbers could increase because not all contractors have been approved yet to offer on-bill financing.

The law that established on-bill financed loans, which had been available for energy efficiency work and other renewable energy sources since 2011, limits the number of Long Islanders who can receive it to around 5,500, Voltz said. About 500 customers have signed up for on-bill financing since the program started in 2011.

"That will pick up now that solar is eligible," Voltz said.

While solar installers applaud the new state programs, not all are thrilled with the new paperwork. Several said there are new requirements for clipboard audits of homes and businesses, to make sure they are using minimal power; longer applications, a need for diagrams and photographs, and a new inspection company to randomly review jobs.

"The amount of work we have to do is ridiculous," said Mike Bailis, vice president of SUNation Solar Systems in Oakdale. At the same time, he said, SUNation has staff to deal with the work, and is grateful the new on-bill financing program was launched.

"We're cranking away," he said. "I've got customers that love the idea of no money down and you pay off the loan on your electric bill."

Kevin MacLeod, owner of Bay Shore installer KPS Solar, sent a letter to NYSERDA, said he was finding that new rebate application was "severely damaging our business model because we do not have the resources to apply to the process."

Kate Muller, a NYSERDA spokeswoman, responded: "We do not expect that these actions will extend the application or rebate process. While the applications request some different information, the overall application package is about the same size."

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