Solar Power Push is on

  • federal grant that covers 30 percent of the installation cost and a 100 percent depreciation tax credit
  • federal grant program could save $645,000 on a $1 million job
  • New Jersey companies employ upward of 3,500 people
  • 80 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2035
Feb 10, 2011 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
Alexander MacInnes

Feb. 10, 2011 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) — In laying out his vision for a stronger, more innovative country, President Obama, during last month’s State of the Union address, called for clean energy to take over 80 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2035.

Solar industry leaders in New Jersey, however, said they are more concerned with driving as many customers to solar by December, when two key federal incentives could end. Company officials stressed the importance of those financial carrots as a way to lure end users to solar and other clean energy technologies, in the immediate future.

"With the incentives pot disappearing, it is imperative to get these projects online," said Lance Kulick, president of Amberjack Solar Energy, an installation firm in Oakland.

At stake is the expiration of a federal grant that covers 30 percent of the installation cost and a 100 percent depreciation tax credit. It is unclear whether those programs will be extended by Congress, but solar business executives say that the systems need to have been started or be installed by December for customers to benefit from both.

New Jersey has seen a steady increase in solar installations since 2001, mainly because of state programs that have allowed customers to save even more from their systems, on top of the federal incentives. The state is second, behind only California, in the number of kilowatts produced from solar power.

Last year, 3,139 customers installed solar panels on their roofs in New Jersey, according to the state Board of Public Utilities. That represents a 132 percent increase from the year before.

The state is home to 200 to 300 companies somehow involved in the solar industry, according to Terry Sobolewski, business development manager for SunPower, a California-based company with offices in Trenton.

SunPower is a member of the Solar Alliance, a group of 30 companies that advocates for solar energy policies. The alliance estimates that those New Jersey companies employ upward of 3,500 people.

Amberjack announced in January it has added 10 new employees to the company’s 18 positions.

Jamie Hahn, a managing partner at Solis Partners, a solar developer in Manasquan, said the benefits of the federal grant program could save $645,000 on a $1 million job, which his company sees as a small commercial project.

"One hundred percent, there’s urgency in the market," Hahn said.

Hahn estimates that a commercial project could take up to four months to install, which increases the urgency for customers interested in qualifying for federal grants.

Still, Sobolewski sees an industry that will eventually wean itself off government subsidies, specifically due to the continued decreased cost in equipment and installations.

"The cost of solar is declining, so the need of those incentives is decreasing every year," Sobolewski said.

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