New York lights the way at the Intersolar Summit USA East

The formal name of today’s conference is the Intersolar Summit USA East, but New York State Senator Kevin Parker gave it a catchier title: “Intersolar Brooklyn”. Senator Parker’s lively keynote at the conference, held a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Bridge, reminded attendees of the city and the state’s commitment to the solar market, and the vision here for a renewable energy-powered future.

A dominant topic of discussion at the conference is the strong policy moves by the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, particularly in contrast to other states such as Nevada. Late last year Governor Cuomo indefinitely extended the state’s net metering policy and set a 50% by 2030 renewable energy mandate. Even more than these two moves, the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process, while still in the early stages, is the most advanced initiative for transforming the electricity system in the United States.

“Not all states have seen the light on solar, and some states have closed their eyes,” noted Richard Kauffman, chairman of energy and finance for New York in Governor Cuomo’s office. In particular he notes the role of the state’s NY-Sun program in lowering costs, which he says “shows what stable policy really can do.”

A key theme here is jobs. Both officials in New York and representatives of the Massachusetts solar industry touted their state’s solar jobs. Senator Parker described the shift to sustainable energy as the “best step to lead the economy forward”, and declared Brooklyn “open for business”.

Unfortunately New York’s commitment to stable policy for solar in contrast not only to Nevada, but to other states in the region. During the opening panel discussion Lyle Rawlings of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association (MSEIA) noted that while the New Jersey market has been relatively stable over the last few years, it has fallen sharply from a high of 486 MW installed in 2012 to only 186 MW in 2015, which follwed a crash in the price of renewable energy credits (SRECs). New Jersey also pays 4x to 7x the value of incentive for every kWh of solar compared to New York.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts caps on net metering have been hit in the service areas of some utilities, and the solar industry is engaged in an intensive lobbying effort to get leadership of the state legislature and Governor Charlie Baker (R) to lift the caps and come up with a vision to move solar forward.

But while the top-level policy moves in New York are a strong signal for the industry, there are still problems when you look at the more granular level. “We know that we have problems here in New York (with interconnection),” admitted David Sandbank, the director of the NY-Sun program at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). However, he also stated that “we have the political will to solve those problems”.