Regional Business Coalition forms between Northeast State Solar Groups, Pace Energy, and Climate Center

Noel Lafayette News

Group to Use U.S. Department of Energy Award To Address Patchwork Policy, Standards, & Barriers To Innovative Financing

February 16, 2015 – The Northeast U.S. solar market is limited by a lack of policy and regulatory uniformity across state and local jurisdictions. This means it costs homeowners and businesses more than it should to install solar according to Northeast state solar business group leaders and university solar experts. The lack of policy harmony also means solar energy development remains unnecessarily dependent on state and federal incentives.

Leaders from state-based solar energy organizations across the Northeast and The Pace Energy and Climate Center (PECC) today announced the creation of a new coalition – the Northeast Solar Energy Market Coalition (NESEMC) – to improve market consistency in the Northeast region. The group’s goal is to make it faster, easier, and more affordable for consumers in the region to choose solar energy to power their daily lives.

NESEMC starts work this month on advancing clear and long-term solar energy market policy through greater synchronization in state-level solar permitting, inspections, net metering, interconnection, value of solar, and other solar policies important to consumers and the industry alike.

PECC, part of the Pace University School of Law in White Plains, New York also announced that it has been granted a $600,000 cooperative award from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to support its NESEMC work to deploy more solar energy throughout the region. The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort launched in 2011 that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade.

Solar industry leaders credit state-specific government policies for launching solar in most Northeast states more than ten years ago. But after a decade of states working largely alone on solar policy, state solar leaders say the time is right to join forces in a coordinated business-led campaign. NESEMC will be the first to highlight and advance multiple solar market policies designed with the entire Northeast market opportunity in mind. This united approach is intended to accelerate implementation of best practices, eliminate duplicative programs, and minimize missteps.

“When solar was still a fledgling industry and limited to only a few states around the country it was entirely appropriate for states to develop their own solar policies,” said SolarConnecticut Executive Director and NESEMC project co-lead Michael Trahan. “But now that every state in the Northeast is pursuing solar, it is time to consider the benefits of a coordinated, regional policy effort.” 2

Trahan conceived the multi-state business coalition and organized solar business groups in the Northeast in support of the NESEMC concept. “The price of installed home solar has dropped nearly 50-percent over the past several years. But to meet state and federal goals, and absorb cuts in state and federal incentives, we either streamline the cost of doing business or put our multi-million dollar investment in solar at risk.”

PECC and NESEMC member state solar business groups — representing more than 500 solar product makers, suppliers, installers and other solar-related businesses in the region — will team with solar policy experts at the State University of New York – Albany’s Atmospheric Science Research Center (SUNYA-ASRC).

Included in the NESEMC roster of state-based solar business associations are groups from Connecticut (SolarConnecticut), Massachusetts (Solar Energy Business Association of New England), New Hampshire (New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industry Association), New York (New York Solar Energy Industry Association), Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Solar Energy Industry Association), and Vermont (Renewable Energy Vermont). Solar industry representatives from Maine and Rhode Island have also agree to participate.

The Northeast region covered by NESEMC, which is about the size of the state of California, currently operates as nine different state markets. Each state maintains different programs and regulations, and experiences different levels of success. Many solar businesses could grow by serving customers in multiple states, but the differences in markets make that nearly impossible for all but the largest providers. The best and well-intentioned efforts of state policy makers makes the Northeast a patchwork of confusing, and sometimes conflicting regulations for solar businesses to navigate.

Karl R. Rábago, executive director at PECC and co-lead on the NESEMC project, explains that, “NESEMC will identify and address those factors that are amenable to policy and regulatory change and improve the market environment.”

Rábago has been involved in clean energy markets for over 25 years including stints as a state public utility commissioner, a top official with the U.S. Department of Energy, a utility executive, and in private business. His experience in successfully establishing clean energy market coalitions includes a founding role in several national, regional, and state organizations.

“We will focus on addressing the problems resulting from widely divergent policy and lack of effective cooperation between solar market stakeholders,” Rábago said. “NESEMC will educate and inform policy and market leaders throughout the region about ways to grow an integrated, vibrant, and self-sustaining solar market. We will work with policy makers, utilities, government officials, and other regionally-focused organizations.”

Project support from SUNYA will come from world renowned solar energy technical and market expert Dr. Richard Perez who directs solar energy research at SUNYA-ASRC.