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State to end solar loan program

These solar cell panels are the roof of

These solar cell panels are the roof of a home in Montauk. Photo Credit: Michael E. Ach, 2010

New York State is ending a popular program that allows utility customers to repay the cost of home solar-energy systems through state-backed loans on their electric bills.

The move comes less than six months after the program was announced, and as PSEG Long Island prepares to announce the 10,000th residential solar-energy program funded through rebates next week.

In letters to solar installers Thursday, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, which administers the program, said the state was ending green-energy loans to all but low- and moderate-income customers, beginning April 1.

The authority said it was seeking to "avoid directly competing with newly emerging and growing private sector solutions."

A spokeswoman for NYSERDA said, "Other lenders are looking to get into this business and we don't want to be competing with other lenders."

Long Island solar installers, whose customers were among the last in the state to have access to the on-bill loans, said ending the program would have a major impact on their business, and solar-energy adoption. Many saw their business more than double since introduction of the loans in July.

"I'm flipping out over it," said Kevin MacLeod, an installer at KPS Solar in Bay Shore. "It puts 70 percent of the industry at a disadvantage. The only business profile that's going to work is a lease."

Local installers have been competing with big national providers of leased solar systems since LIPA began allowing rebates to apply to its systems in 2013.

Mike Bailis, vice president of SUNation Solar Systems in Oakdale, said the state "put a beautiful program together and they didn't have any long-term vision." Bailis said with rebates expected to come down to 30 cents a watt in coming weeks, state incentives to push the industry are drying up.

The state's decision comes as PSEG Long Island is preparing to announce the 10,000th residential home solar system next week. The Huntington homeowner's $27,000 system was helped with a PSEG rebate but not on-bill financing, said Bailis, whose company did the installation.

The letter to installers said the on-bill loan program, through the state's Green Jobs-Green New York initiative, would be available to households with incomes of less than or equal to 80 percent of the area median income starting April 1. NYSERDA said that figure for Long Island would be $84,133 for a family of four.

"Thanks to a very fast-growing solar market, the state is able to focus its resources on where they are most needed: low- to moderate-income households," the NYSERDA spokeswoman said.

Loans for small businesses and nonprofits for green-energy programs will also be discontinued beginning April 1.

The NYSERDA spokeswoman said the on-bill payback option will be discontinued, even if customers find third-party financing companies to provide loans.

But she said, "through anticipated legislative action," NYSERDA will "pursue and support adoption of open source on-bill recovery programs where financing is made available by private capital providers."

Bailis and MacLeod expressed concern that the on-bill financing program was ending in response to pressure by leasing companies on state officials because it provided local installers with strong option for leased systems.

The NYSERDA spokeswoman said, "I don't know anything about lobbying. We see this as really a policy decision."

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