Business and Economy
4:40 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

The Currency: Bay State Solar Company Expands Into N.H.

20110816_suecia_450
Industry insiders say solar is poised for huge growth.
Credit Anna Fuster / Flickr Creative Commons

The Currency is our ongoing look at economic and business news in New Hampshire. 

Headlines: Summer Tourism To Grow, Bike Week Attendance Dips...And So Does Maple Syrup Production 

Granite Staters in the tourism industry can expect another good summer.  That’s according to the Institute for New Hampshire Studies, which released a report predicting a two percent increase in visitors over last summer.  The state expects them to spend nearly $2 billion between June and August, and to see more travelers from the UK, France, and Germany.

Meanwhile, bikers have been converging on Laconia for the past few days for Motorcycle Week.  And Weirs Action Committee member Judy Krahlec says another biker event on the calendar, attendance hasn’t been up to snuff. 

“Apparently there’s a little confusion.  We usually end on Fathers’ Day.  This year, because of the Gypsy Tour, it was extended.  It was bumped up a week later,” she says.

But locals say they hope the recent sunny weather will help make up the difference. 

And New Hampshire's maple syrup production dropped by 12,000 gallons this year.  The reason?  The USDA says it’s the polar vortex—the same thing that dinged the rest of the economy this past winter.  It kept temps cold and shoppers indoors while also shortening the sugaring season in the Northeast. 

Why A Mass Solar Company Thinks N.H. Is Poised For Big Growth

When you hear the words “solar power,” massive arrays of panels lined up in the Arizona desert might come to mind.  Or maybe a niche market for granola-types here in New Hampshire.  But solar is big--and industry insiders say it’s poised to become huge.  Right now, it’s second only to natural gas for new electricity generation in the US. 

And with its generous subsidies and tax breaks, Massachusetts has become a magnet for solar installation companies, drawing businesses from as far away as California.  Right now, it’s a good time to make your living off photocells.  That's according Mark Durrenberger, a partner at Hudson, Massachusetts-based New England Clean Energy.

“And as things change in the solar industry, it’s become more and more affordable, even in states like New Hampshire, where the incentives aren’t quite at the same level as they are in Massachusetts,” he says.

And his company’s taking an unusual step.  Rather than expand inside the Bay State’s borders, New England Clean Energy announced it will start serving 27 communities in southern New Hampshire.  Besides just eco-friendly evangelism, Durrenberger says the decision was also based on the company’s business model—which is serving customers within a one-hour drive.  A task that’s getting easier as solar becomes more accessible to the average homeowner.

"First off, the cost of the components has come down dramatically in the last four years.  Almost a 50-percent reduction in cost for a system, typically," he says.  "Secondly, there are a number of new financing options that weren’t available when I started the business.  Banks and other organizations have figured out how to write loans, if you will, for these customers.  And so the systems become more affordable, because you can spread that out over time, as opposed to having to come up with large payments over the project."

Q: What would make it easier or more attractive for solar companies to do business in New Hampshire?

A: Well, obviously, every incentive helps.  We have something called the Solar Credit, which is a big part of what’s driven solar adoption here in Massachusetts.  Their bigger incentive is something called the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate, which is what’s called a “performance-based incentive.”  That is, as your system produces electricity, you earn this incentive.  Be wonderful if something like that was set up in New Hampshire.  New Hampshire currently has a rebate, which actually helps quite a bit.  It’s been recently funded, and it looks like it’s going to have funds in it for a while.  I know in the past it had been constrained.  It does not appear to be constrained at the moment.

Q: Do you see more potential for solar growth in New Hampshire’s residential market or in the commercial market?

A: The residential market is made up of people who do solar for a number of reasons.  Not only economics, but also environmental.  Many businesses…environmental is secondary.  It’s the economics.  So while people will put a solar system on their house and not think as much about whether it’s got a good return on investment or not, people may not do it on a business for environmental reasons alone.  They’ll do it only if the economics work.

Q:  Where do you see the solar business headed in New England?  I frankly think it’s going to continue to grow.  People want to have the option of generating some of their own power, getting somewhat independent of their utilities.  They certainly, a large portion of them want to do right by the planet, and are concerned about carbon dioxide, and see this as a way to help that.

While Massachusetts offers a maximum tax credit of about $5,200 and the opportunity to make money selling power from your solar panels, New Hampshire’s main incentives are renewable energy credits and a rebate of about $3,800 max.  But in the New England solar market, that puts the Granite State between two extremes.  Maine offers nothing to entice homeowners to go solar beyond the federal tax credit.

Meanwhile, in Brattleboro, Vermont, a development company is setting up a two-megawatt array along Interstate-91.  It’s being built as part of the state’s SPEED program, which streamlines the permitting process for renewable energy projects and guarantees they’ll have customers upon completion.

Check here again next Wednesday for The Currency, a weekly look at business and economic news in New Hampshire.