It's not the sunshine that's the problem. Every six weeks, nearby New Jersey installs the same amount ofsolarthat New York does in an entire year. Nor is it solar's ability to compete with local electricity rates, which consistently rank among the highest in the nation. Nor is it any lack of public support or the absence of a workforce primed for green jobs. The problem is the state's policy, which provides only intermittent support for harnessing electricity from the sun. The existing program falls short of the predictable, transparent policy framework it takes to build robust solar markets.

A strong solar bill now moving through the state capitol looks primed to give New York what it needs to be a solar leader. The New York Solar Jobs Act of 2010 would establish aggressive-but-achievable targets for New York utilities to bring solar capacity on-line each year -- scaling up to 2.5% of the state's energy mix by 2025. That equates to approximately five gigawatts of solar (or 5,000 megawatts, or 5,000,000 kilowatts -- however you say it, it means a ton of new solar capacity).

The pending legislation would help New York generate enough clean electricity to power about a million homes. But it is the bill's ability to generate economic opportunity that's really turning heads in the state legislature. We here at Vote Solar recently released a report quantifying just how substantial an economic boon the bill would be to New Yorkers.

Using NREL's Job and Economic Development (JEDI) model in conjunction with state-specific inputs and assumptions, we determined that the 5 GW by 2025 program is likely to support 22,198 direct and induced jobs. These are high-quality local employment opportunities across a broad range of education requirements, salary levels and fields.  It's worth noting that the analysis errs on the conservative side and does not include any potential manufacturing jobs that might result from building strong local demand for solar products.  

In addition to job creation, New York could expect to see about $20 billion dollars in economic output from the proposed solar policy. That includes wages, salaries and other revenues that can be reinvested into the state economy. That's a marked departure from New York's traditional electricity generation, which is largely dependent on non-local coal resources that send energy dollars out of state.

Now there's no such thing as a free lunch. And certainly, there's no such thing as building a new energy economy for free, either. We enlisted the independent energy consultants at Crossborder Energy to help quantify the expected costs. Their analysis used historical Public Service Commission (PSC) rate data from across New York's utilities and customer classes to extrapolate expected rate trends for the lifetime of the proposed solar legislation. The result? Those 5 GW of solar are expected to add 39 cents to the average monthly residential electricity bill. So, if all New Yorkers simply switched to online payment instead of using a postage stamp to mail their utility bill, they'd come out ahead AND have a shiny new energy economy to boot. That's what we call a good investment.

And we're certainly not alone. The bill is being supported by a coalition representing environmental and economic interests alike: the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Solar Alliance, the Apollo Alliance, and the Alliance for Clean Energy New York to name but a few. Recognizing the strategic importance and lasting benefits of solar development, New York's State Assembly Energy Committee voted resoundingly in favor of the legislation last month. And with bi-partisan support continuing to build as the bill moves through both the Assembly and the Senate -- things are looking decidedly sunnier for solar in New York.

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Vote Solar is a nonprofit organization working to combat climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream throughout the U.S. Shaun is Vote Solar's Director of East Coast Campaigns, and Rosalind is Director of Communications & Development. For the full text of the economic impact report and more information about the New York Solar Jobs Act, visit: http://votesolar.org/ny-solar-jobs-act-of-2010/" http://votesolar.org/ny-solar-jobs-act-of-2010/