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Renewable energy experts say drop in investment isn't cause for alarm

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Michael Flett says New Jersey's solar market should continue to stabilize.
Michael Flett says New Jersey's solar market should continue to stabilize. - (NJBIZ file)

A report showing a global decline in clean energy investment is consistent with recent trends in New Jersey, according to observers of the state’s landscape. But renewable energy watchers say the pattern is not cause for alarm.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported this week that clean energy investment slid 22 percent worldwide in the first quarter of 2013, a decline partly attributed to reduced government subsidies. In the United States, the report said investments in renewable and energy-efficiency technologies fell 54 percent, to $4.5 billion.

“It’s pretty much on target,” said Alan Fliss, president of the New Jersey Green Association, a Rockaway-based group that touts renewable energy.  “Unfortunately, the economy and the decline in tax credits really hurt.”

Fliss said renewable energy will need government support, but New Jersey has more pressing priorities, including repairing damage related to Hurricane Sandy. Fliss said he believes the industry will grow long term as a recovering economy generates new investment. Education, about wind power in particular, also needs to improve, he said.

The Bloomberg report cites a decline in wind investment as part of the reason for the U.S. drop, noting the congressional dispute over extending a subsidy for wind-based energy technology. Congress let the credit expire last year, but renewed it in January.

Bloomberg figures also showed a drop in small ventures, as investment in projects less than 1 megawatt, such as solar roofs, fell 8 percent, to $18.5 billion.

Micheal Flett, president of Flett Exchange, a Jersey City trading platform for solar renewable energy certificates, is not worried about the findings.

Solar policies in the United States vary by state, Flett said, and New Jersey’s industry is stabilizing after years of rapid but unsustainable production. The state is adding about 15 to 17 megawatts a month, a rate he said is more reasonable than the overheated growth of a few years ago.

SRECS, credits sold by solar developers to utilities required by law to include a certain amount of renewable energy in their portfolios, are now priced at about $110 after selling for more than $600 in 2011. Gov. Chris Christie last summer signed legislation intended to stabilize the SREC market.

“As long as the market is developing with those goals set out, then the market should continue to stabilize,” Flett said.    

Flett said much of global drop can be attributed to Europe, which is undergoing an economic downturn. The Bloomberg report says Europe saw a 25 percent drop in clean energy investment, to $13.4 billion in the first quarter. Japan and other parts of Asia reported growth.

“A lot of the decline in Europe is Italy, Spain and Greece, and they have a lot of problems over there,” Flett said.

Fliss said he also remains optimistic for green technology though growth will be steady rather than robust. Fliss said he expects not a “radical upswing but a gradual upturn” in the coming years.

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