New Jersey aimed to be a leader in solar energy, ahead of California,
in having the best rebate and the best incentives, says Quentin Kelly,
chairman of Worldwater & Power Corporation at Pennington Business
Park. His international solar energy and water management firm has
high-powered, patented solar technology for commercial, agricultural,
and residential applications. Targeting the New Jersey market, he had
hired nine people to sell solar installations to homeowners.
But on August 25 Worldwater posted a sign on its website: No more
orders. That’s because residential rebate applications got clogged in
the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) pipeline. One of Worldwater’s
commercial contracts also dropped off BPU’s rebate list. Worth more
than $1 million, it was a wastewater treatment and water utility plant
"We go to work only when the rebates are approved," says Kelly. "We
were able to install only five residential jobs and have as many
stacked up. Three or four weeks ago we had to stop selling."
"The whole idea was to jump-start getting solar into homes as well as
businesses, and the lack of rebates has completely stopped the home
business," says Kelly. He is having to lay off the sales people he
hired or blend them into the commercial division.
Kelly points out that the solar installation rebate money is not
supposed to be dependent on the legislature; it comes from a minuscule
societal benefit tax on utility bills.
Some say the BPU had 10 times as many applications as it could fund.
Others point out that, for the past several years the BPU has been
busy fending off political attacks, including a whistle blower lawsuit
that resulted in an audit by the state treasury department and a grand
jury investigation, and they claim this was the reason why the
pipeline to rebate monies got clogged.
"Once Treasury started its audit, instead of trying to grow the
program, BPU officials began spending hours every day explaining what
they do to the auditors who are not renewable energy specialists,"
says Phillips. "It has become a bureaucratic nightmare."
"Everybody was so excited that we had a little bit of money for
renewable energy," says Phillips. "For the very first time solar is
taking off – in New Jersey, the United States, and Europe – because of
policies. Investment is coming in like crazy. We are actually growing
a renewable energy sector. When something like this happens – though
it has nothing to do with the subject at hand – the result will
potentially kill the growth of solar energy and renewables in New
Jersey. It gets serious when businesses lay people off."
"We have a thriving solar energy business now. The BPU needs to
appropriate more money for this. They haven’t done it," says Phillips.
"People are putting in applications that may take them a year to get
approval, but BPU was not ready to handle this success. Because of a
treasury audit and a criminal investigation triggered by the audit –
certain legislators clamored for an investigation – a really good
program that was growing solar energy is now virtually shut down."
One encouraging note: Just before this article went to press, on
August 31, the BPU was scheduled to move money dedicated to future
years into this year’s pot. Kelly hoped that BPU would reveal what
additional projects, if any, would be funded.
"What they really need to do," says Phillips, "is make a policy
decision on growing solar energy and perhaps the governor and the
legislature needs to get involved."
WorldWater & Power Corp. (WWAT.OB), 55 Route 31 South, Pennington
08534; 609-818-0700; fax, 609-818-0720. Quentin T. Kelly, chairman.