State solar businesses hope prospects brighten under Malloy
Published 9:35 am, Saturday, December 25, 2010
For solar installers like Chris Lenda, who owns Branford-based Aegis Electronic Systems, business is always either booming or busting, depending on how much incentive and rebate money is available in the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.
Lenda's company installs about 200 solar projects a year around the state, and right now, it's surviving, not thriving, he said.
The solar industry's future is dependent on a sound, long-term energy policy, Lenda and other industry experts said, and they are looking to Gov.-elect Dan Malloy to push for the creation of a solar renewable energy credit, or SREC, program in Connecticut.
Right now, the solar panel industry in Connecticut is kept alive through subsidies from the state. Although solar panels become cheaper every year, most homeowners still need an incentive to mitigate the costs.
In states that already have SREC programs, utility companies are required to get a portion of their electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar. Utilities get an SREC for every megawatt of solar electricity produced. Utilities can sell excess SRECs to other utilities that are falling short, and may have to pay a fine if they don't meet their requirements.
Seven states -- six of which are in the Northeast -- and the District of Columbia already have SREC programs.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed an energy bill at the end of the last legislative session that would have required electric companies to procure 4.35 million SRECs. The SRECs could come from residences with solar panels that feed back into the grid.
In Connecticut, 1,528 homes and 188 commerical and municipal buildings have solar systems installed, according to a December report by the state Department of Public Utility Control.
But Connecticut's electric power companies have not shown significant interest in doing the same.
"Under the bill ... vetoed by Rell, the large-scale solar projects would be completed by developers like Sound Solar Systems," in Milford, Trahan said.
The cost of building those projects would have been recouped through the ratepayers.
The ratepayer fee "would be an infinitesimal amount of your energy bill -- less than 1 percent," said Carolyn Humphreys, spokesman for Milford-based solar installation company Sunlight Solar.
Rell vetoed the bill because she said she did not know what impact it would have on the state's economy and ratepayers.
Malloy said in his energy platform during the election that he would have signed the bill into law.
As the mayor of Stamford, Malloy oversaw the construction of the first municipal solar-based energy system.
"The day he gets inaugurated, he is instantly going to become one of the top three or four governors in the country in terms of understanding the benefits of clean energy," said Trahan.
Trahan sits on an Energy Policy Working Group created by the Malloy transition team to help formulate an energy policy for the new administration.
Malloy did not comment on whether he will be a proponent of the SREC program in the coming legislative session, but his spokesperson said, "he remains committed to finding innovative and forward-thinking ways to help ease the burden here Connecticut."
Not all legislators agree that the state should be subsidizing solar power.
"Given the financial condition of the state and economy, we have to be looking at things with a big, quick payback," Miller said.