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Green Bank CEO contemplates CT’s solar growth pace

BY Matt Pilon

7/30/2018
Photo | HBJ File
Photo | HBJ File
CT Green Bank CEO Bryan Garcia predicts continued demand for solar energy in Connecticut.
Solar panels across Connecticut generated 463 gigawatt hours of electricity last year, according to a report recently published by Environment Connecticut.

That's enough to power 43,000 homes, and solar production in the state has increased at an annual growth rate of more than 50 percent since 2010, according to the report.

But a key question remains: Can Connecticut sustain a growth pace anywhere near that level in the coming years, especially given that it was starting from scratch and that other headwinds are coming into play?

Bryan Garcia, CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank, a quasi-public clean energy financier and booster, says he has a positive outlook for the state's solar future, despite challenges including recent tariffs on aluminum and other materials that have started to push up solar installation costs (upwards of 10 percent) for the first time in a few years.

"The consumers want [solar] and are demanding it," said Garcia, whose organization's portfolio represents at least half of the systems that produced last year's solar output. "I'm optimistic that what we're going to see over the next year is growing demand."

Other potential threats to solar's growth are expiring state incentives and a coming legislative tweak to how homeowners are reimbursed for solar electricity they generate.

The Green Bank's incentive program, which makes it cheaper to install solar panels, has helped seed about 215 megawatts of rooftop solar. Under state law, that program expires once it hits 300 megawatts, which could happen as soon as next year.

After that, growth will largely be up to the market, barring some major legislative action.

In addition, lawmakers this year approved a change to how utilities reimburse homeowners for the solar electricity they produce on their roofs. Solar advocates worry the change, which would go into effect after state incentives expire, could make solar a less desirable investment.

"Right now, I think the market is asking 'What's going to happen after 300 megawatts?' " Garcia said.

He hopes that demand will remain high — something like 45 or 50 megawatts of new installations per year.

But for the time being, he thinks installers and homeowners will not want to miss out on remaining available incentives.

"We're seeing an attitude of 'get it while it's available,' " he said.