CONCORD — As the state agency that oversees utilities puts the brakes on the solar rebate program, those in the industry worry about the possible ripple effect.
The Public Utilities Commission, in Concord (PUC) recently announced the temporary closure of the Residential Solar and Wind Rebate program and the Commercial and Industrial Solar Rebate program due to fiscal year 2018 budget constraints and the large number of applications on the wait list.
According to Amanda Noonan, director of consumer services and external affairs, funding for these rebate programs comes from the Renewable Energy Fund, or REF.
Under New Hampshire law, a certain percentage of energy supplied must be from renewable fuels and resources. Electricity providers who cannot purchase enough renewable energy or who cannot get it at a reasonable price are allowed to meet this requirement through an alternative compliance payment into the REF.
Noonan said the temporary closure is about fiscal prudence, while they wait for the reports submitted by utilities to be audited.
“We don’t think it is prudent to continue to commit money to people when we have not yet verified how much money we are going to have for the 2018 program year,” Noonan said.
Jack Ruderman, director of community solar initiatives at ReVision Energy in Brentwood, said the company is concerned that there will be insufficient funding for the solar rebate programs when the PUC re-opens it, due to the low revenues this year and a $2 million backlog of rebate applications that are on a waiting list.
“The revenue for the current state fiscal year, ending June 30, 2018, was only $3.6 million. A few years ago it was more than $17 million. There is no way to accurately predict what the revenues will be next July,” Ruderman said.
Electricity providers have been able to obtain most of the credits they need to comply with the current clean energy requirements of the state’s renewable portfolio standard law.
According to Ruderman, the steep drop may have resulted from changes to the way credits are calculated. However, he said those requirements increase each year so it is possible in future years there will be shortfalls of credits, leading to more revenue for the rebate program.
The PUC also stated that the rebate programs themselves may also be changed and said they may consider changes to the program terms and conditions prior to the programs reopening. An opportunity for public input would be provided before any program changes are made by the commission.
Noonan said she could not provide specifics about any possible changes until the auditing is done.
She said typically the legislature enacts policy and the state agencies like the PUC, carry it out.
“We would certainly provide the information as to the funding we receive, the number of applications, the waitlist, and discuss possible solutions,” Noonan said.
Ruderman said given how little revenue there is to work with, most in the solar industry are anticipating that rebate levels will be reduced in order to stretch the money further.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the current funding mechanism for the rebate programs is too volatile and unpredictable,” Ruderman said. “What is needed is a new incentive program that provides a steady, predictable stream of funding to ensure program continuity and certainty. There are 1,200 good-paying solar jobs in New Hampshire, but the stability of the solar industry is at risk now due to the shortfall in rebate funding.”
Andrew Kellar, of New Hampshire Solar Garden in Stratham, has been involved in some of the largest solar projects in the state and is also concerned that the temporary closure could slow the momentum of the industry.
“We are concerned about this because it creates a delay in projects moving forward, but it shows that renewables are really taking hold in the N.H. energy market and it’s not just for the early adopters anymore,” Kellar said in an email. “People of all walks are taking control of their energy resources, from residential rooftops, to commercial to community solar farms that allow anybody to benefit from using solar to offset energy bills. I look forward to seeing how the PUC works to open this program up ASAP to keep this positive momentum moving so N.H. does not lag behind other states.”
According to the PUC, the utility reports and payments must be validated and a final budget approved by the commission and the process is typically completed sometime in September.
6 August 2017 6:11 am
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