Look Ma, no subsidies

That’s the goal anyway of a new solar program competition by the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority. CEFIA will award a $1 million loan to the plan that uses the money to provide the most residential solar electricity.

It has to be a feasible plan – no fantasy projects. But the critical parameter is that it cannot use any of the subsidies or incentives the state currently provides. Federal ones are OK – so that means the 30 percent tax credit is still available. The $1 million comes with 2 percent interest, repaid over 20 years.

“We’re testing the market,” said CEFIA spokesman David Goldberg. “But the reality is because we’re having a contest on emerging concept, we might not get a winning proposal. We might have proposals that come in that can’t get the job done.”

The long stated goal throughout the renewable energy world is to get such systems, like solar, in wide enough use to drive down their price so they are no more expensive than other forms of energy and therefore would no longer need government and other subsidies. Solar in particular has been getting cheaper and cheaper and many in the energy industry have felt the day is not far off that it can stand on its own.

CEFIA is testing that theory – or at least partially testing it. It is hoping applicants will use creative leveraging to turn the $1 million into more money through private investments and other financial tools. At the very least, Goldberg said, CEFIA would be able to learn from the process and figure out how to proceed.

At the end of the day, it may be that this isn’t ripe yet, that we’re just not there yet,” he said. “But the benefit of this is as a checkpoint – where are we? How close are we? What are the barriers to getting there?”

Proposals are due March 18.