The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) stopped accepting applications for rebates under the Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) for solar installations this month. The surge in April applications has outstripped all allocated funds. The REIP provides rebate checks for solar installations in New Jersey. These grants are available for home systems and small commercial systems that are 50kW and less.
The flood of applications can be attributed to the reduction of state incentives and growing interest for installing solar. The reduction rumor began with the change of administrations as Republican Governor Chris Christie replaced former Democrat Governor John Corzine. Governor Christie inherited a budget deficit and is proactively cutting state spending in all segments of New Jersey Government. Shortly after his election the incentives for the REIP program were reduced from $1.75 per watt to $1.35 for residential installations and $1.00 per watt to $.80 cents for commercial installations. Installers across the Garden State quickly accelerated sales and were seen lining up at state offices to submit their applications for the second funding cycle.
At the last Renewable Energy Committee meeting in Trenton, New Jersey, the Office of Clean Energy asked for stakeholder suggestions on how to administer the third round of applications in September. Suggestions like entity caps are now being considered. The prospect of increasing funding was abruptly dismissed by NJBPU staff citing that adequate funds are currently not available at this time.
According to an article published by Associated Press/1010 WINS on May 12, 2010, BPU spokesman Greg Reinert said, “the BPU decided not to take any more applications until the next funding cycle begins Sept. 1.But all the eligible projects that were submitted will still get the rebates, he said, even if the amount surpasses the $6 million set aside for them. Money could be transferred from another fund, he said.” This information was not available at the Renewable Energy Committee meeting that day since many participants were complaining about waiting on line and missing the deadline. However, it appears this topic could be addressed in more detail at the next BPU board meeting on June 7, 2010 and there is approximately $8 million in CORE projects that could alleviate funding draw downs.
The discontinuing of REIP rebate checks could potentially hurt the future of residential and small business solar installations. In the past, the NJBPU has been vigilant for making solar democratic process; homeowners and small business were given incentives to keep them competitive with larger utility, government, and large corporate projects. This has created a more diverse and distributed mix of solar thus generating a macro benefit to all electricity users through less impact on the grid. Residents and small business in New Jersey were given a fair chance to participate in renewable energy projects through the REIP rebates.
Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) are now coming to the aid of the New Jersey solar market. Over the past five New Jersey has weaned itself off of an incentive based program and SRECs have evolved into reliable income stream. If this transition had not been achieved, solar investors would be at the mercy of rebates and the market would virtually shut down. Instead, the market is busier than ever. Mid scale projects in the 200kW-500kW range are leading the way for NJ solar development. Solar investors use the SREC revenue to pay down the cost of the system. In a market in which regulatory risk is just as high as supply/demand risk, investors feel more confident in a market based SREC program instead of relying on politicians who could discontinue a program at any time.
The buoyant price of New Jersey SRECs is an attractive incentive to solar investors. Daily settlement prices on the Flett Exchange spot SREC exchange have been consistently 95% to 97% of the Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP) for the second half of 2010.