By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Sellers of small-scale renewable energy systems say business has stalled since a state tax credit was eliminated by the General Assembly.
"It definitely has had an impact on doing residential projects here in Rhode Island. We are doing very few," said Chris Kearns of the state's largest wind and solar installer, Alteris Renewables.
When it was introduced in 2006, the 25 percent state tax credit, coupled with a 30 percent federal credit, prompted Alteris and several other contractors to start or ramp-up sales of residential wind, solar and geothermal energy systems.
Thomas Marsocci added a wind and solar business to his commercial painting operations in 2007. A believer that home-produced energy can meet long-term energy needs, he offered public seminars about the advantages of home power on Block Island and other wind-friendly communities.
"I spent a lot of money to get that started," he said. Last year, Marsocci had his best year, installing four turbines. He expected more customers this year, until the state tax credit disappeared.
"It's held a lot of people from pulling the trigger and buying a system," he said.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Deb Ruggiero, D-Jamestown/Middletown, this year to bring the tax credit back died in committee. Ruggiero plans to sponsor a new bill next year.
Since the renewable energy tax credit was first offered to homeowners five years ago, the state has lost an average of less than $150,000 on 40 to 70 installatons annually.
"I testified that $150,000 is a rounding error in a $7.7 billion state budget," Ruggiero wrote in an e-mail.
Restoring the credit, she said, encourages home owners to invest in wind, solar hot water, photovoltaic and geothermal projects — all work that creates jobs and generates state revenue through sales and payroll taxes.
Local installers say neighboring states are more business friendly to the renewable energy sector. Massachusetts offers a slew of incentives, including a $3,500 rebate for solar hot water and up to $8,500 for photovoltaic. Connecticut runs a lease program and offers other tax breaks for residential green energy systems.
Chris Kent, of Island Solar, Heating and Plumbing, said the Rhode Island tax break was as good, if not better, than those in neighboring states. But now, he said, "There is little hope. I'm getting no interest. I have to break the news to people that the 25 percent tax credit is gone."
Both Connecticut and Massachusetts rank higher than Rhode Island in recent growth in the renewable energy sector. All three states signed on to the New England governors and eastern Canadian agreement to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, to at least 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and a longer-term goal of up to 85 percent below 1990 levels.