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Long-awaited funds for solar come from stimulus

Long-awaited funds for solar come from stimulus(Via Washington Business Journal- by Vandana Sinha)After years of zero financial incentives for alternative-energy

enthusiasts, Virginia is bursting out of the starting gate with tens of

millions of stimulus dollars just for renewable-energy aid.The state plans to set aside $39 million from its $70 million share of the

federal stimulus package to help residents, businesses, nonprofits, schools

and government agencies summon electricity and heat from the sun and wind.While the state must still apply for those funds from the U.S. Energy

Department, the proposed dollar figure has astonished even the strongest

advocates for incentives to support renewable-energy projects, especially

in a state that has long trailed Maryland and the District in that

department.When this year’s General Assembly ended with the death of yet another

incentives bill — one that offered $2 million in tax credits to residents

and corporations for renewable energy — supporters had pinned their hopes

for financial help on the stimulus money.Now renewable-energy companies, many of whom log at least a half-dozen

calls a week from interested Northern Virginia residents, see more

customers and more employees down the road.“It’s finally going to let them catch up and play in the game,” said Jay

Madison, a D.C. renewable energy consultant with Energy and Environment

Inc., a Spotsylvania-based clean-energy systems installer that said it

could more than double its roughly three-person presence in the Washington

area.The $39 million pot is expected to be divvied into three portions. One is

for local governments to invest in schools and municipal buildings. Another

is for state-owned buildings, including those at universities and prisons.

The third portion, perhaps as much as $15 million, will reimburse

homeowners, companies and nonprofit groups for their wind and solar power

investments.The state is still too early in the planning process to give many details

on the incentives, but Virginia officials envision renewable-energy

rebates, likely doled out after installation is complete and the bills are

paid for residential and smaller commercial projects.If their request to the Energy Department is approved, they expect some

money to start flowing as early as July.But it’s been a long wait for the state officials who have been pushing for

a renewable-energy program.“It hasn’t got much support, but it’s probably the No. 1 issue I’m

contacted about,” said Ken Jurman, renewable program manager at the

Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. “It has been over the last couple

of years, and it’s been increasing over those years.”The new federal money doesn’t mean the end to his problems, however.That money runs out in September 2010, and Jurman, a self-described eternal

optimist, acknowledges that he could still have trouble getting legislative

backing then.The amount of support would depend on the number of new jobs or company

relocations associated with the incentives — numbers Jurman’s office will

track through stimulus mandates.Energy advocates worry about the consequences if the incentives disappear

after merely a year.“It looks like we’re going to grow very easily, but it’s not going to

shrink easily,” said Peter Lowenthal, executive director of the

Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association,

which is advising the Virginia agency on the renewable-energy rebate

program. “It will be a shot in the arm. People will get some training, so

that’s a good thing. But it won’t really meet the goals of the stimulus in

order to create permanent job growth.”Madison said the marketing campaign for the incentives and the ease of the

rebate application process will determine the community’s appetite for the

program — in turn, determining his hiring plans and, thus, a legislator’s

support for more incentives.“A smart company would stay lean and expand just enough to