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Prieto Bill to Help Spur Investment in Clean, Low-Cost Solar Thermal Energy Approved by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen) to spur the study of and investment in solar thermal energy received approval from an Assembly panel on Thursday.

“This legislation is designed to create incentives to boost investments in a clean new technology with great potential benefits for our environment and economy,” said Prieto. “Installing solar thermal systems would help our local businesses, schools, and municipal facilities reduce their energy costs as well as their reliance on imported fossil fuels.”

Solar thermal systems use solar energy to heat water or air but, unlike solar cell systems, don’t create photovoltaic energy. There are two types of solar thermal systems: passive and active. A passive system requires no equipment, much like when heat builds up inside a car when it is left parked in the sun. An active system requires some way to absorb and collect solar radiation and then stores it.

The bill (A-2507), entitled the “Solar Thermal Expansion and Jobs Creation Act,” would establish the Study Commission on Solar Thermal Energy, as well as a Solar Thermal Expansion Loan and Grant Program to study these various options and determine which, if any, are right for New Jersey. The Commission’s findings would guide the creation of a loan and grant program to be implemented by the Economic Development Authority as a revolving loan fund to provide a cost-effective means of incentivizing this new technology at a low, long-term cost to the state.

The five-member Study Commission on Solar Thermal Energy (“commission”) would be chaired by the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and charged with producing a report for the Governor and the Legislature within 180 days after its initial meeting, that includes information concerning solar thermal technology, the types of facilities that the program should target, and recommendations on how the program should be structured.

Based upon the commission’s recommendations, the EDA would be directed to establish a three-year Solar Thermal Expansion Loan and Grant Program to offer low-interest loans to the owners or operators of private commercial or industrial facilities that may be used exclusively for the installation of solar thermal systems. The EDA would use repaid loan funds and any proceeds thereof to issue new loans.

The program would also award grants to municipalities, non-profit hospitals, universities, and the owners of low-income, multi-dwelling buildings, which may include mixed-use developments, that may be used exclusively for the installation of solar thermal systems. All loans and grants would be capped at 50 percent of the project cost.

The bill would require the EDA to consider the reduction in energy usage and job creation as the primary factors in selecting projects for loans and grants. The EDA would also be directed to provide a preference for projects that utilize materials made in the United States. Finally, the EDA is required to issue an annual report, with input from DEP, BPU, DCA and the Secretary of State, that summarizes the loans and grants made through the program, estimates the number of jobs created by the program, and makes any recommendations for changes to the program.

The bill would appropriate $10 million from the General Fund for the program. The measure was approved by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee by a 5-2 vote.