As expected, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty has given final approval to a new residential solar incentive program to be run by the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, the new program as mandated in last year’s energy legislation was supposed to put in place a more sustainable funding stream than has existed in solar programs over the last seven years. Those programs — generally fixed sums of money — tended to be popular and quickly ran out of funds.

But the new program, approved by CEFIA’s board of directors — of which Esty is a member — is only $7.5 million and expected to last a year to a-year-and-a-half — a prospect that has annoyed many in the solar industry who were hoping for a bigger shot in the arm for their languishing industry here.

The reason, Esty and others on the board said, was that an initial plan from CEFIA was not as self-sustaining as they had hoped. So this one is being activated while better models are developed.

If there was any doubt about that, one need only read the marching orders Esty included with his approval note to CEFIA President Bryan Garcia. In addition to telling Garcia he expects him to “significantly exceed” the goal of 30 megawatts of residential solar power by 2022 as required by the legislation, he wrote: “We look forward to hearing CEFIA’s proposals concerning supplementing this program with loans and other forms of financing.”

He went on:

“DEEP believes that CEFIA’s plan is the most fiscally responsible approach to meeting the joint challenges of promoting the deployment of solar in the short-run, while preparing for a future that will be based on a different model developed by CEFIA. This new model is responsive to a dynamic solar market, in which new technologies and manufacturing techniques promise to drive down prices. The new model also reflects the need to end our reliance on government and ratepayer-funded incentives — and instead use these scarce government resources in ways that leverage private capital and bring new funding sources to the table. DEEP shares CEFIA’s view that any program that does not allow for re-assessment of existing pricing and incentive levels in future years would be a less than optimal investment of ratepayer dollars.”

Loosely translated: The era of solar handouts is ending.

Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

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