New York Senate Passes Sweeping Solar Legislation in Unanimous Vote

The New York State Senate this week passed legislation that solidifies the state's long-term commitment to solar energy. The New York Solar Bill, which received unanimous senatorial support, extends for ten years the NY-Sun Initiative, a public-private partnership designed to encourage growth in New York's solar industry by investing in solar technology and reducing the cost of installing solar panels.

Announced during Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2012 State of the State Address, the NY-Sun Initiative was established to quadruple the amount of customer-sited solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity added between 2011 and 2013. To support the program, the New York Power Authority authorized $30 million over five years for solar PV research in an effort to reduce the cost of the renewable energy resource.

The New York Solar Bill, passed with great fanfare to mark the 43rd annual Earth Day, extends the NY-Sun Initiative until 2023 and is expected to encourage the construction of 2,200 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power 400,000 New York homes. The bill should also create thousands of jobs in New York while helping to wean the state off of fossil fuels.

The unanimous Senate vote received widespread commendation from solar industry trade associations and environmental groups.

"The New York Solar Bill will help create new local jobs, modernize our power infrastructure, protect our environment, and put New York at the forefront of our growing clean energy economy," said Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president for state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "It will drive the kind of private investment that it takes to build a world-class solar market."

The Senate's commitment to solar energy also signals a shift towards renewable energy in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the storm that wreaked havoc across the state last year and which many leaders, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, attributed to climate change.

"In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers understand all too well the urgent need to combat climate change and better prepare for its impacts," said Pierre Bull, policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading U.S. environmental nonprofit.

"Solar power is helping to tackle those challenges head-on," he continued. "This bill-together with reductions in power plant pollution and increased energy efficiency and support for other renewable energy sources, like offshore wind-can help New York build a cleaner, safer and more secure energy future."

Solar power is on the upswing countrywide. Installations of solar PV modules in the United States grew by 76 percent in 2012, making solar the country's fastest growing energy source.

"We've brought more new solar online in 2012 than in the three prior years combined," remarked Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. "This sustained growth is enabling the solar industry to create thousands of good jobs and to provide clean, affordable energy for more families, businesses, utilities, and the military than ever before."

Resch attributed the growth to legislation such as the New York Solar Bill. "This growth simply would not have occurred without consistent, long-term policies that have helped to ensure a stable business environment for this country's 5,600 solar companies - many of them small businesses," he said.

Several of those businesses, including EDF Renewable Energy, E.ON Climate & Renewables North America, Mainstream Energy Corp., Nexamp, REC Solar, SolarCity, Solar One, SunEdison, Sungevity, SunPower Corp., Sunrun and Trinity Solar, publicly supported the bill.

New York currently produces enough solar energy to power 27,000 homes, placing it 12th in the country for total installed solar capacity. In 2012, $257 million was invested in New York to install solar on homes and businesses, representing a 91% increase over the previous year. Investment is expected to further increase this year.

Image credit: Alan Wu, Flickr