Momentum is high for major solar legislation in New York State, but it’s a race to the finish to get it passed before lawmakers go home for the year.
The New York Solar Bill, which would enact a ten-year extension of Governor Cuomo’s successful NY-Sun Initiative, was reported out of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee yesterday and is headed to the Assembly floor for a vote. The Assembly is expected to bring the bill up for a vote in the next few days. A version of the bill already unanimously passed the Senate on Earth Day.
Even if passed in the sixteen days remaining in the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers will need to reconcile the differences between Senate and Assembly versions in order to make the New York Solar Bill law.
Solar has gained increasing attention from state lawmakers following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, which exposed New York’s energy infrastructure as grossly outdated and unable to weather the effects of climate change. At a time when the state faces the dual challenges of failing energy infrastructure and an economy still in recovery, it’s increasingly clear that solar is ready to help build a stronger New York.
“This bill will serve to expand upon access to a clean, renewable energy source that must be part of the conversation regarding the energy future of our state and nation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). He went on to “applaud Governor Cuomo and Assemblywoman Paulin for taking the lead on this issue and urge...colleagues in the Senate to join us in ensuring that New York’s energy future is on a sustainable track.”
NY-Sun was established to drive growth in the state’s solar industry and lower solar costs for New York energy consumers. The program is delivering on its goal of quadrupling the amount of customer-sited solar PV capacity added between 2011 and 2013. The state incentives are leveraging millions more in private solar investment and deploying solar at record rates for the state, but its run-time of just a couple of years doesn’t provide the long-term planning horizon needed for real market transformation.
In his 2013 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo committed to extending the NY-Sun Initiative through 2023. The New York Solar Bill would solidify that $150 million per year extension in statute, ensuring that New Yorkers benefit from a stable and predictable long-term incentive program. All told, that will deploy an impressive 2.2 gigawatts in the state, bringing it out of the shadow of solar powerhouse neighbors like Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.
For the state’s solar industry, the proposal means ten years of increased market certainty on which to build business. New York currently ranks 12th in the country for total installed solar capacity. There are 3,300 New Yorkers already employed in the state’s growing solar industry. In 2012, $257 million was invested in New York to install solar on homes and businesses in 2012, a 91 percent increase over the previous year. That is expected to grow again in 2013 thanks to NY-Sun.
Long Island-based solar installer EmPower Solar has expanded from five to 50 employees over the past five years, a rare spot of growth in the recession economy. “This month, we hired our first new team member since Hurricane Sandy decimated our operation, and we have several more hires planned for 2013,” said David G. Schieren, chief executive officer of EmPower Solar. “Passing this solar bill will provide policy stability so that responsible companies such as ours can continue to expand and build a highly skilled workforce.”
SunPower, SunEdison, Borrego Solar, Sungevity, Sunrun and SolarCity all serve New York energy customers, and Verengo Solar recently announced its expansion into the state.
"A stable solar marketplace has been a necessary prerequisite for SolarCity to complete over 1,200 solar projects for New York residents and businesses, while employing over 130 people. This bill will provide long-term market certainty so that we can continue to invest in a growing New York industry," said the company’s regional vice president of East Coast operations Lee Keshishian.
As is true elsewhere in the country, strong solar policy is also proving popular among New Yorkers. Over the past two weeks alone, nearly 10,000 New Yorkers have sent messages of solar support to their elected officials. A statewide poll conducted for Vote Solar showed an overwhelming 89 percent support for increasing the use of solar to meet the state’s power needs -- more than any other resource.
Business and environmental groups converged at the Capitol yesterday to urge lawmakers to deliver the landmark solar policy to Governor Cuomo’s desk this legislative session. Dave Gahl, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, may have said it best: “New York's sun is underemployed, and by passing this bill the Legislature can put it to work.”
Peter Olmsted is East Coast Solar Policy Advocate at Vote Solar.