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SEIA seeing US solar project delays due to COVID-19; seeking federal, state assistance

Highlights

Seeking ITC extension, other assistance for sector

Shelter-in-place policies impacting construction

New York — On the same day New Jersey regulators reported a record number of solar power project installations in 2019, national trade group Solar Energy Industry Association said Friday it is seeing an uptick in project delays due to COVID-19 impacting the sector.

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"This is a critically important issue and a rapidly changing situation," Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA's president and CEO, said during a webinar with the group's members.

Hopper said the industry is hearing concerns about tax equity availability so SEIA is trying to find a way to use the existing federal Investment Tax Credit without tax equity and the group is asking federal lawmakers for an ITC extension due to work that will not get done in 2020 because of coronavirus-related delays.

Asked about utility-scale solar project demand impacts, a SEIA representative said power demand impacts are "still being worked out" and the "situation has changed in some markets in past 13 hours."

The US solar industry represents about 250,000 people and when SEIA has conversations on Capitol Hill they are "talking about men and women facing real hardship," Erin Duncan, SEIA's vice president of congressional affairs, said.

Congress is currently working on a third national aid package. The first package dealt with immediate medical needs, the second focused on paid sick leave and related items, while the third is an economic stimulus package with aid for workers, said Jeremy Woodrum, the group's director of congressional affairs.

"We expect action on the third package today and into the weekend," Duncan said, which could include measures to help the solar industry meet the needs of its workforce.

Specifically, SEIA is asking for additional opportunities for cash to be put into the solar industry and they are supportive of broad-based economic proposals to help small business because 75% of US solar sector firms are small businesses, Duncan said. The potential for an ITC extension could be part of those discussions as well, she said.

STATE-LEVEL ACTIVITY

Most state legislatures have suspended operations for one week or longer, although some state agencies like those involved in permitting solar projects have begun working remotely, Sean Gallagher, SEIA's vice president of state affairs, said.

A top issue that has emerged in last few days has been shelter-in-place types of orders or non-essential business closures in some municipalities that are impacting solar industry workers, Gallagher said. California and Pennsylvania announced such measures last night.

Some of SEIA's goals are maintaining business as much as possible by moving permitting online and making sure the solar power industry is recognized when economic stimulus packages are developed.

Help with financing could be another focus area going forward, maybe from states with green banks, Gallagher said.

Based on industry survey data, the greatest overall concern is construction delays for multiple reasons like shelter-in-place orders, Justin Baca, vice president of markets and research, said.

A second-order concern is customer acquisition, as the industry is seeing a drop in new customers for reasons like residents not wanting sales people in their houses or because their investment accounts have taken a hit, Baca said.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Friday announced that 2019 was a record-breaking year for New Jersey's solar energy program, with 447 MW of solar capacity starting commercial operations, which brought total installed capacity up to 3,190 MW.

Solar power served 5% of New Jersey's 2019 electricity demand, the BPU said.

New Jersey vintage 2020 class I REC prices were assessed at a weekly average of $9.68/MWh, down nearly $1/MWh, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.