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Solar milestone just the start

November 28, 2018

Heading into the final months of 2018, Connecticut was on the edge of passing through the mark of 500 megawatts of solar electricity generating capacity, enough to power the equivalent of some 70,000 homes, according to estimates by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The state hits the threshold even as Gov.-elect Ned Lamont readies to arrive in Hartford as the replacement for outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, with Lamont having emphasized the need for continued investment in renewable energy; and as a federal investment tax credit is scheduled to drop significantly after 2021, possibly encouraging commercial property owners to invest now.

During the campaign, Lamont pledged to enact policies with the goal of cutting carbon emissions more than a third from current levels within 12 years, with the goal of the state becoming “carbon neutral” in a little over three decades.

While an escalating proliferation of electric vehicles is expected to make a major dent in carbon emissions, solar will play a role, as well, even as Northeast states face limiting factors like shorter summer seasons, snow and foliage. Lamont has said he wants to streamline permitting to spur more solar arrays at warehouses, parking lots and brownfield sites, among other possibilities.

And Lamont said he would protect funding for the Connecticut Green Bank that has been emulated in other states as a way to finance projects through programs like the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, with C-PACE allowing property owners to get financing up front for the green energy systems they install in exchange for surcharges on their property taxes over time.

“We looted the Green Bank,” Lamont said in October during a visit to the Cheshire-based installer Trinity Solar. “Let’s go back to fully funding the Green Bank.”

An untapped opportunity

Bethel Power Equipment activated in the past month a new solar array at its Bethel facility in the Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park just over the Danbury line, with assistance from Smart Roofs Solar, Darien-based Greenworks Lending and the Connecticut Green Bank.

Mark Guss, who owns Bethel Power with Kevin Dee, told Hearst Connecticut Media he doubts he would have gone ahead with the installation without the financing option provided by C-PACE and the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit that incentivizes solar installations. He added Bethel alone represents a major untapped opportunity for solar installers, given a significant number of industrial properties.

Next door, the town of Bethel activated this year a large, ground-based solar park at its waste transfer station.

“In this (industrial) park alone, the park probably has 60 or 70 buildings,” Guss said. “Almost every building has a flat roof with very few trees.”

Greenworks has assisted in the financing for several other area projects this year, including a PurePoint Energy array at Ridgefield Supply that the company expects to save it about $75,000; and at Paul Miller Nissan in Fairfield in an Encon project.

Tariff, tax credit impacts

In a September study produced with GTM Research, the Solar Energy Industries Association ranked Connecticut 14th among states nationally for solar installations in the second quarter, after placing outside the top 20 states in the previous two years.

In the first half of 2018, GTM found, 29 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity was generated by newly installed photovoltaic systems, with SEIA noting the uncertainties created by new U.S. tariffs on solar panels manufactured overseas; and the Investment Tax Credit dropping to 10 percent from 30 percent today.

SEIA is now putting its advocacy efforts into expanding the federal Investment Tax Credit to include battery storage, allowing private solar arrays that produce more energy than owners use to have a way to draw power as needed. The group holds a conference next week in Washington, D.C., focused on state and federal tax policy.

As Lamont convenes a transition team that will consider environmental initiatives among myriad challenges and opportunities for the state, next door Massachusetts in the process of implementing a new program that supporters think could add 1,600 megawatts of capacity.

“This is a major step,” stated Dave Gahl, SEIA director of state affairs, in a blog post this month analyzing the Massachusetts program. “In fact, solar is so sought after in Massachusetts that we expect one quarter of the (1,600 megawatts) of new projects to be procured within the first few weeks.”

Includes prior reporting by Paul Schott and Luther Turmelle.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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