Guest Editorial: Why the NY Solar Jobs Act is a win for all NYers

Guest Editorial: Why the NY Solar Jobs Act is a Win for all NYersWhat would it cost New Yorkers to create over 20,000 New York clean energy jobs and generate over $20 billion for the local economy? 39 cents. The Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act being proposed in Albany would cost New Yorkers an average of 39 cents in new utility costs a month—less than the cost of a doughnut. But the benefits would be safer energy, cleaner air, and solar jobs for New Yorkers.

For years the fossil fuel industry has been saying solar costs too much. Now New York legislators are asking—what’s the cost of not going solar? New Jersey is experiencing a boon in its economy right now from policies that encourage solar investment. NJ added 100 MW of solar power last year alone, whereas the total amount of installed solar in New York is merely 54 MW. As the solar industry rushes to New Jersey, it’s bringing investment and creating jobs. The Solar Jobs Act would allow New York to seize that same opportunity.

Over 50 percent of solar project investment is in local development and installation. The jobs created from this investment are well-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced. And the output from these jobs is a cleaner domestic electricity supply that keeps our energy dollars local, serves as a hedge against rising fossil fuel costs, and drives down the cost of clean energy.

At the same time, investing in solar energy helps reduce stress on the grid during peak hours, thus reducing the need to fire up older, dirtier plants on peak summer days, which is expensive and drives up costs for ratepayers. It also saves the state money by avoiding the environmental compliance costs associated with coal-fired power plants, as well as the expensive infrastructure that will be required to maintain and expand these polluting forms of energy in the years ahead.

The NY Solar Jobs Act has bi-partisan support in the legislature because clean solar energy on rooftops, in open spaces, and now even floating on water provides safe, efficient electricity for users, while boosting the economy and protecting the environment. It’s a win for all New Yorkers.

And what would this investment in a cleaner, safer, more prosperous state cost us? 39 cents a month. That’s right—less than $5 a year, according to a recent study by Cross Border Energy.

The program works by offering Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC) to producers of solar power, with each megawatt of solar equal to one certificate. Utilities and other electricity providers would be obligated to purchase these certificates, thus incentivizing investment in solar energy.

The law provides flexibility and diversity by requiring that SRECs be purchased from a variety of sources. The details are still being worked out in the legislature, but a certain percentage of SRECs would be purchased from small-scale solar systems on homes and businesses at rates that would be adjusted each year. This would allow anybody to sell clean electricity at a fair market price. Another portion would be purchased from large-scale commercial solar operators under a competitive bidding process that will reward cost-effective investments and help drive down the price of solar-generated electricity. A third portion could be built or contracted by the utilities themselves, to help them make the shift to cleaner energy. Companies that don’t purchase their quota of SRECs will be charged higher payments to incentivize their compliance.

The law ratchets up the required number of SRECs each year, thus driving solar investment in a steady, cost-effective way. By providing for long term contracts for SRECs, the law provides stability in energy pricing, offsetting the rising cost of imported fossil fuels, and ensuring competitive prices for solar providers and New York ratepayers.

The program starts small and scales up, requiring utilities to provide merely 0.15 percent of their power from solar in the program’s first year, rising to 3 percent by 2025. But the end result will be a 90-fold increase in locally produced solar energy for New York by 2026, creating over 5000 MW of clean, renewable power. In addition to reducing local air pollution, an NRDC spokesperson says the bill will reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking millions of cars off the road.

This bill allows New York to capitalize on the booming solar market in order to create over 20,000 jobs for New Yorkers. Additionally, this program will attract billions of dollars of investment to the state, reduce pollution and lay the groundwork for a safe, clean, secure energy economy for the Empire State in the 21st century.

Isn’t that worth 39 cents?

Chris Robine is the former CFO of General Electric Renewables division, who now runs one of the largest, privately held solar companies in the country, SPG Solar.