New York Solar Energy Execs Say Public Money Is Running Out

At a forum on sustainable energy yesterday at Hunter College, alternative-energy industry executives expressed concern that a public benefit agency whose mission is to help the state transition from petroleum to renewable energy sources is running out of money.

During the “economic challenges” portion of the forum, which was hosted by Councilwoman Letitia James and Councilman Dan Garodnick, along with James Gennaro, co-chair of the City Council’s environmental committee, alternative energy companies (SunEdison, Solar Energy Systems, and Alts Power) sat on the panel opposite the council members.

The energy company officials contended that New York needs more stabilized funding in order to make real progress in switching from dirtier forms of energy, particularly in converting to solar power in the city.

“Unfortunately, today we have no presence in New York and that’s owing to some of the financial and technical pressures that have already been alluded to,” said Fred Zalcman, the director of regulatory affairs of eastern states at SunEdison. “Certainly, we hope that situation changes in the near term. We’re quite bullish about the New York market.”

David Bucker, president of Solar Energy Systems, said that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) was actually going bankrupt.

“NYSERDA has enough funds left for the program to fund about three weeks. They spent $700,000 last week, they’ve got like a total of $16,000,000 available and it’ll be gone within the month,” Buckner said. “The complexities of putting these tax incentives and rebates together, depending on who you are and what you do — are you a for-profit coop or a nonprofit condo? — it becomes very complex.”

I read his numbers to a NYSERDA representative this morning.

“I can pretty well qualify that we don’t have [what Buckner described] happening any time soon,” said the representative, Pierre Bull.

“There’s been an uptick in solar interests for business and personal use, we’ve been planning money for a ramp-up in available renewals,” he said. “The big hold-up has been the high interest in solar energy renewal. It’s been hard to keep up with the demand and with all the application forms.”

He said that the relative handful of NYSERDA employees whose job it is to answer the phones and file applications were having difficulty with the influx.

“I’m not sure what that’s about,” he said, in response to a question about concerns people have about the organization going bankrupt.

After the panel, Adam Friedman, director of the nonprofit New York Industrial Retention Network, said, “NYSERDA is the primary vehicle for the state to implement energy policy,” he said. “It has a really broad variety of activities including building infrastructure for future energy policies.”

I asked him why anyone had reason to question its survival.

“The challenge is, there’s this gap between what the subsidies add up to and what the companies are willing to pay,” he said.

As a result of yesterday’s forum, Garodnick’s office said that they are proposing a city energy planning board to coordinate with NYSERDA in the future.

New York Solar Energy Execs Say Public Money Is Running Out