Solar industry looking to shine under Cuomo

Dec 21, 2010

During his campaign for governor, Andrew Cuomo released a plan calling for the state to renew its commitment to solar energy. But on the cusp of Cuomo’s swearing in, the state’s fiscal hole may dim his plans.

More solar panels are installed in New Jersey in one month than in a year in New York. That talking point is courtesy by Ron Kamen, president of the New York Solar Energy Industry Association (NYSEIA). His organization endorsed then-candidate Cuomo’s solar energy proposal, saying it would give New York relevance in an industry that’s growing faster elsewhere in the United States.

“In the next 10 years it’s predicted that almost anywhere in the country, solar will be the [lowest] cost electricity option,” Kamen said.

But that fact might not be enough to translate an ambitious campaign proposal into policy that will actually help move the needle for New York-based solar producers and consumers. Legislators have a giant deficit to address, and new programs that spend more for an industry that has historically provided few jobs amidst unpredictable growth aren’t likely to be at the top of the to-do list come January. 

“They are going to struggle with the balance of how much investment … the state afford, given all the economic things,” Kamen said.

Cost estimates were not included in Cuomo’s campaign plan.

With the amount of worldwide solar power doubling every year in the United States, Kamen says New York could position itself to take advantage of a developing  boom.

“Question is: what will New York put in place to take advantage of that exponential growth. Will we be a part of it or will we lag behind?” he said.

Cuomo’s plan would put the state on par with its neighbor New Jersey, which has used a system of solar credits similar to a program Cuomo has proposed, to rocket to the number two spotnationally, in total solar power produced.

Still, a handful of New York’s  solar companies have succeeded without the help, Kamen says. He says there are pockets of success that give him hope that solar could begin to take a real foothold in the now-global industry.

“Here in Buffalo, silicon is being processed, being sent down to Fishkill where its being turned into wafers, sent to then Kingston where its turned into panels, and those panels are now becoming commercially available to businesses,” Kamen said.

Yet most solar sales in New York go to overseas buyers, Kamen says, because demand is still lacking in the state. While Cuomo’s plan is careful not to emphasize solar energy at the expense of other renewable sources, such as wind, it does point out that solar is more appropriate for the state’s dense urban areas like Buffalo, Rochester and New York City.

Meanwhile, NYSEIA has released its own solar targets for 2011.