The sun is starting to rise on solar energy in the state and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is giving it a push. Last year the EDA began awarding loans and grants for the manufacture and sale of solar energy in New Jersey. To date, it has given out $11 million from its Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund.
“New Jersey has made a good start with solar energy, ranking only second to California,” says Paula Durand, senior venture officer of clean technology for the EDA. Through other programs, the state has helped fund more than $322 million for about 5,800 installations with a solar energy capacity of 180 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 36,160 homes in New Jersey.
Durand will be one of several panelists at a four-hour program on solar energy for New Jersey businesses, on Thursday, August 19, at 7:30 a.m., at the Woodbridge Hilton. The event, sponsored byWoodbridge-based accounting firm of EisnerAmper, is free to attend. Call 973-596-4450.
Solar energy accounts for the largest share of renewable energy manufactured in New Jersey, followed by wind. This nascent solar energy effort represents only a small fraction of 1 percent of the state’s energy usage. New Jersey’s goal is to produce 3 percent of its energy through solar power by 2026.
“New Jersey was ranked as one of the top 10 green states by Forbes magazine,” says Durand. “The state has 3.8 percent of the nation’s population but consumes only 2.7 percent of its energy.”
The EDA presented its first grant and loan, for a combined $3.3 million, last year to Petra Solar Inc. of South Plainfield. The funds will support the company’s purchase of equipment and machinery, and its planning and design process. “A year ago Petra Solar had fewer than 10 employees,” says Durand. “The funds we provided are part of a total public-private investment of $7.6 million that has already enabled Petra Solar to hire another 100 employees — and that number is expected to increase to about 164 over the next two years.”
Founded in 2006, Petra Solar designs, develops, and manufactures electric power and power management products that focus on the solar energy and smart grid markets. The company’s flagship product is the SunWave, a solar module that enhances the reliability of electric distribution systems by combining distributed solar generation with smart grid technology.
Durand has an extensive background in finance but has personal connections to the construction and alternative energy worlds. On Long Island, where she grew up, her father began his own real estate and construction company.
“My father owned his own business, which gave me some insights into and interest in a career in business,” Durand says. “I find that everything you learn as you grow up can be used in some way during your career.”
Durand’s brother is a mechanical engineer and manages wind projects in California. “I’ve visited my brother and have gotten to see first-hand how an alternative energy program can work,” Durand says. Her mother, meanwhile, studied music at the New England Conservatory.
Durand earned a bachelor’s in economics at Northwestern University in 1976 and an MBA in finance at New York University in 1978. She embarked on a business career that included stints at HSBC, where she managed a global portfolio of more than 100 public and government sector clients, and structured financing for select corporate banking clients. Durand also worked at Chase Manhattan Bank in relationship banking and corporate financing, focusing on middle-market clients, and in accounting positions at two Fortune 500 technology companies.
About three years ago Durand joined the EDA, which assists businesses of all sizes and types in all stages of development by providing low-interest financing, loan guarantees, tax incentives, and creative financing packages.
Funding source. The EDA manages the Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund and expects to provide $12 million a year in loans and grants over five years.
“The fund was created to ensure companies have the resources they need to sustain, grow, and prosper,” Durand says. “Companies are eligible for a performance grant for up to $1.3 million and a loan for up to $2 million.”
EDA partners with the state Board of Public Utilities, which provides half the award funds each year. The other half are in a revolving loan fund managed by the EDA.
EDA also coordinates with the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices, which set policy, and with the Department of Environmental Protection, which is responsible for permitting.
“We are looking to support any company that is looking to expand into or launch a clean energy manufacturing program,” Durand says. “This could be a more mature company that now produces traditional energy and wants to transition in whole or part to renewable energy. Or it could be for a start-up company that is devoted to producing renewable energy.”
EDA has awarded grants and loans to three other companies since Petra Solar, one being Princeton Power Systems, based on Washington Road and started by Princeton University graduate Darren Hammell in his senior year, 2001. PPS has received $3.3 million to help the company advance its second-generation grid-tiered inverter and is developing advanced power conversion technologies that provide a more reliable and cost-effective means for converting electric power cleanly and efficiently (U.S. 1, January 20).
The project is expected to create 91 jobs over the next two years.
Currently, no company manufactures solar panels in New Jersey (But the Reed Road-based Applied Photovoltaics hopes to do so soon — U.S. 1, June 16). “We are hoping this program will ultimately induce some companies to begin building them here,” Durand says.
Restricted company. Companies must pass the EDA’s rigorous thresholds to receive financial support. To be eligible, a company must be a for-profit entity that is planning to manufacture eligible products in New Jersey, and be entering or expanding within the manufacturing stage of commercial development.“
The grants are a dollar-to-dollar match, so companies must provide at least half the money needed for their total project cost,” Durand says.
Other avenues. To complement the Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund, the EDA also manages the Business Employment Incentive Program, which supports businesses that expand or relocate to New Jersey and create jobs.
Grants through this program may be for up to 80 percent of the total amount of the employees’ state income taxes withheld, for up to $50,000.
The EDA also offers tax-exempt bonds for such projects as manufacturing facilities; government airports, wharves and docks; water, electric, and gas facilities; and commercial and industrial projects in federal Empowered Zones or Enterprise Communities.
For-profit companies are eligible to receive up to $10 million in tax-exempt bonds while there is no dollar limit for nonprofit organizations.
This project supported one of the largest pitched-roof solar electric systems in the state, which was completed at the Fellowship Village Retirement Community in Basking Ridge last October. Absolutely Energized Solar of Millstone installed more than 3,000 panels, which are expected to reduce 900,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and protect 250 acres of trees annually.
EDA provided $4.6 million in tax-exempt bonds to Fellowship Village, and a $250,000 guarantee for an $800,000 line of credit to Absolutely Energized.
For more information about EDA programs, call 866-534-7789 or E-mail CustomerCare@EDA.com.