New York Pursues Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act

By Danielle Sugarman


Recently New York has taken a step forward in ramping up its solar energy commitment.  In February of 2011 New York Assembly member Steven Englebright (D), along with Energy Committee Chair Assembly member Kevin Cahill (D), introduced The Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011 (Solar Jobs Act) (A. 05713).  The bill is being sponsored in the New York Senate by Republican George Maziarz (S. 4178).  The goal of the Solar Jobs Act is to spur the development of a robust solar power market in New York State and to make New York a significant player in the growing renewable energy industry. 

Despite having demonstrated an early commitment to solar energy and having vast in-state growth potential, in recent years New York has fallen behind neighboring states like New Jersey in solar installations.  Currently, New York’s installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity stands at roughly 54 megawatts (MW) – representing less than 0.02% of New York’s electricity and less than 3% of the national solar market share. [1]  New Jersey, on the other hand, has installed more than twice that amount in 2010 alone.  In an effort to reverse this trend, the Solar Jobs Act seeks to “create a solar energy enterprise that will elevate the state to be among the world’s cutting edge clean energy industry leaders, while helping to secure increased economic development for New Yorkers.”[2]   

The bill sets a target of developing 5,000 MW of solar PV by the year 2026 by requiring that each New York retail electric supplier procure “Solar Renewable Energy Credits” (SRECs) according to a compliance schedule. The SRECs would be used to stimulate solar development and open a trading market for electricity in New York.  The SRECs can be sold from state to state and will be purchased by utilities that have to show a certain amount of energy created by renewable resources.  Each New York retail electric supplier would be required to gradually increase the amount of solar energy produced until solar power comprises at least 4.5% of the retail supplier’s sales by 2025.  Retail electric suppliers that meet certain conditions would be permitted to resell or dispose of SRECs that are in excess of its obligations under the bill.  The Renewable Energy Credit model is expected to provide investment stability through long-term contracts and competitive bidding in open auctions.  It was derived from the best practices of other states and is designed to achieve the goals of the bill at a minimum cost to producers and at a maximum benefit to New York ratepayers.  

By installing 5,000 MW of solar PV by 2026, the Solar Jobs Act would provide enough renewable electricity to power 500,000 households – roughly equivalent to 3% of the state’s total electric load.  According to a study by Vote Solar, deploying 5,000 MW of solar would avoid as much as 120 million tons of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road.[3]  As such, the bill would decrease the state’s production of harmful emissions by reducing the need for fossil fuel based electricity generation, especially at times of peak energy demand.

Furthermore, advocates of the Solar Jobs Act argue that investment in New York solar energy will also have a positive impact on the economy.  The bill is expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs across a wide range of education requirements, salary levels and fields.  Many jobs would involve construction and operation of solar panels – jobs which are inherently local and which are unable to be outsourced. Proponents of the bill expect that it will generate a multi-billion dollar boost in wages and economic output which can then be reinvested in New York’s economy.[4]

Proponents of the Solar Jobs Act also argue that the timing of the bill is ideal given the declining cost of solar, the increased cost of fossil fuels and the availability of federal tax credits.[5]  Currently there is strong support for the bill in both Houses with Senator Geroge Maziarz backed by a bi-partisan group of 13 Senate co-sponsors, and Assemblymembers Englebright and Cahill backed by 31 Assembly co-sponsors and multi-sponsors.  Additionally, there is a diverse coalition of business, environmental and health organizations fighting for the bill’s passage.  On April 13, the Assembly Energy Committee approved the bill and referred it to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.  The Legislature is now on break, but advocates are pushing to make the bill a priority when they return in May.  Proponents hope that the bill’s strong backing and economic potential will aid in getting this legislation signed into law.

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