Solar firms given reassurance by NJ Environmental Commissioner at conference

The commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection sought to calm fears among some in the clean energy industry that small-scale solar projects are getting left behind in the state's new energy master plan in favor of off-shore wind power and large-scale solar arrays.

"That's not going away," Commissioner Robert Martin said of smaller solar projects, such as those installed on homes and utility poles, in response to a question at the New Jersey Clean Energy Conference, conducted at the offices of MX Solar in the Somerset section of the township.

But Martin added that the solar industry needs to find a way to bring down its costs.

The Somerset County Business Partnership, in conjunction with the United States Chamber of Commerce, hosted the event, which was to be the first in a national series of open discussions on energy policy. About 85 people involved in the energy industry attended the event.

Lyle Rawlings, the president and CEO of Advanced Solar Products in Flemington and one of the panelists for the event, told Martin, "We're pretty nervous" that the state is focusing on large-scale solar arrays instead of smaller projects. Rawlings said numbers used by the state to draft the master plan exaggerated the costs of solar energy while minimizing the number of jobs the technology creates.

Rawling said Martin's response indicated that the state is open to discussing ways to bring down the costs, which he saw as a positive sign.

"He said we have to work with the governor's office to bring down the cost of solar," Rawling said.

The master plan proposal has significant changes from the previous 2008 master plan, including a reduced goal for percentage of energy generated by renewable sources, which drew fire from environmental groups. The previous goal of 30 percent is being reset to 22.5 percent with a 2021 target date. Martin said the 30 percent figure was arbitrary and unrealistic.

"That's not what this administration is about," he said.

"Implementing Clean Energy Initiatives: A National Dialogue" was designed to start a national discussion on implementing clean energy programs, with a focus on local, state and federal permitting obstacles, according to an announcement about the conference.

Scheduled speakers included Assemblyman Upendra J. Chivukula; William L. Kovacs, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer; Carlo Santoro, director of business development for MX Solar; and Michael Kerwin, president and CEO of the Somerset County Business Partnership.

Panelists included Rawlings; Eric Svenson, vice president of policy and environment for PSE&G; Mark Warner, president and CEO of Sun Farms Network in Flemington; and Jed Richardson, global energy director for Johnson & Johnson. Wayne DeFeo of DeFeo Associates moderated the discussion.

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