The push comes to make Massachusetts to turn into one of the nation’s renewable energy hubs.
The administration is already touting what it says are its successes in helping encourage the use of solar panels — pointing to “a nearly 15-fold increase in solar installations over Governor Patrick’s first four-year term.”
In the past two years, the state’s Commonwealth Solar program has awarded about 1,270 rebates for residential, commercial and municipal solar panel projects.
But the relative success of the program also shows how steep a climb Massachusetts and other states face in trying to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The 1,270 projects produce enough energy to power just 3,200 homes annually in Massachusetts, a state with a population of more than 6 million.
Still, the administration is quick to point out that however modest, the 22.3 megawatts of solar power generated through the program’s grants is a dramatic increase from the 3.5 megawatts of solar power being generated annually in Massachusetts when Patrick took office.
That number could double by the end of 2010.
With the addition of federal stimulus-funded solar panels slated for installation on water treatment facilities and other public buildings, the total amount of solar power could top 50 megawatts over the next 12 months.
“Commonwealth Solar has already played an important role in speeding the Bay State’s transition to a clean energy economy,” Patrick said.
By the end of January the administration hopes to have a series of new programs up and running that they say will add to the state’s solar power tally.
The first is an extension of the current Commonwealth Solar program, which offers rebates to homeowners and small businesses to install solar panels.
Commonwealth Solar II will continue that rebate program for residential and commercial solar installations of 5 kilowatts or less. The programs rely on $1 million each quarter from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.
The trust is funded by a small charge on monthly bills of electric utility customers.
A second program — Commonwealth Solar Stimulus — will rely on $8 million in federal stimulus funds to help companies install large solar arrays aimed at generating more than 5 kilowatts each.
Officials said at least two other states, Connecticut and Maryland, have launched similar solar rebate programs using with federal stimulus revenue.
The state is also developing regulations for a third program, a new solar credit market. The program was authorized by the state’s 2008 Green Communities Act to provide predictable market support for the solar industry. The initiative is also set to begin this month.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles said the goal of all the programs is to make Massachusetts “a national solar energy powerhouse.”
“Commonwealth Solar has exceeded all expectations, putting solar power within the reach of more people and businesses than ever before.” he said.
Patrick has set a goal of 250 megawatts of solar energy — enough to power at least 37,500 homes — by 2017.
The administration said the solar push has also translated into jobs. They said the number of solar contractors and subcontractors has grown from about 50 in January 2008 to nearly 200.
They also pointed to a survey of 98 solar panel manufacturers and installers that showed the companies doubled their Massachusetts employment from 1,086 in 2007 to 2,075 in 2008, with an anticipated additional 960 workers during 2009.