Solar advocates paint upbeat future for industry in N.Y.

This year might be a turning point for New York state’s use of solar energy, according to New York S

This year might be a turning point for New York state’s use of solar energy, according to New York Solar Energy Industries Association President Tom Thompson.

Thompson said the New York Solar Energy Industries Association is conducting its annual “Solar New York” conference and exhibition today from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Albany. He said companies with local operations like General Electric Co., DayStar Technologies, which operates a thin-film solar panel manufacturing plant in Halfmoon, and ecoPower, a manufacturer of key solar power technology located in Malta, have changed the focus of solar energy away from small environmentalist groups.

“It’s all about business now. Globally, I think last year [solar technology] was a $17 billion industry for solar electric,” Thompson said.

To increase solar energy use in New York state, from its level today at 15 megawatts to Gov. David Paterson’s goal of 100 megawatts, will require a change in New York’s net metering law and an increase in the $5 million New York state budgeted to promote solar power this year to about $200 million annually, Thompson said.

New York’s current net metering law allows residential properties to feed up to 10 kilowatts of electricity generated by solar panels back into the power grid, but prohibits commercial or government properties from doing the same thing.

“If you put solar panels on your house, you might occasionally be generating more power than you are using, and when that’s going to be is during hot sunny days. If that happens the power goes back into the grid,” Thompson said.

Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, said he thinks there is a good chance a new net metering law will pass this year. Thompson said a new 50-cent per month charge on electricity bills, if authorized by the New York State Public Service Commission, could pay for the additional $195 million in annual funding the NYSEIA thinks is necessary to establish 100 megawatts of solar power in New York state.

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