Most people would think the down economy would put a stop to states’ solar incentives for good. Not so—at least for now in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved $459 million in total funding for its 2010 Clean Energy Program, the state entity that handles solar rebates for residential customers. Although that solar rebate program was temporarily suspended in May due to budget cuts, it’s now back. More than 6,000 solar projects in the state are collecting nearly $330 million in solar rebates as of June 30, the Board of Public Utilities reports.
Other states, including California—another frontrunner state for solar—has also seen its solar incentives budget cut, according to the Contra Costa Times. The California Public Utilities Commission temporarily suspended the rebate program in July, the newspaper reports. The early July temporary hold was originally expected to last only until September and would stop the issuance of new solar incentives for government and nonprofit projects, according to a press release from the commission. But that hold was lifted July 29 when the commission was able to shift money around to pay for the solar incentives.
Similar scenarios have played out in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Although installing solar panels on a home isn’t cheap—officials at the New Jersey Clean Energy Program believe solar energy offers other societal benefits.
“New Jersey, like many states, is in a fiscal crisis which has been created by a variety of things including budget decisions over the past years (and) a loss of population, wage earners and businesses. One of the ways to preserve the state and create a better fiscal picture for the government is to expand the base of businesses that pay those taxes,” Lee A. Solomon, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, told Capitol Ideas in May.
That’s where the incentives come in; they help consumers afford the upfront cost associated with installing solar panels and bring business to solar companies in the state. And although the price has come down for these projects, the state’s solar rebates have still been very popular. The state’s Clean Energy program received more than 1,100 applications in May vying for a piece of the $6 million available for the rebates, according to The Press of Atlantic City.
For example, a 10-kilowatt solar system was 80,000 two years ago; the price for that system today is $50,000, The Press of Atlantic City reports.
“The successes of many of the New Jersey Clean Energy programs has made us focus on methods to sustain these renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, and begin to transition from rebates to financing incentives,” Solomon said in a Board of Public Utilities press release .
But just how sustainable are these incentives, especially given the tight fiscal constraints that continue to face the state? Although the solar rebates have been renewed again for this year, they’ve still had their share of cuts. For example, to plug a state budget gap, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cut more than half the money available—$58 million had been slated for the incentives—for this year’s solar rebates, according to The Press of Atlantic City.
But Solomon believes the rebates are still important for solar jobs. And jobs are good for the economy.
“We have companies that are producing, that are growing as companies by producing solar panels and facilities—that is occurring,” Solomon said.