With the right incentives, clean energy can become a productive industry in New Jersey, according to a panel discussion at the first annual Clean Tech New Jersey conference held Tuesday at the Hilton Hotel in Woodbridge.
The discussion, entitled “New Jersey’s Dynamic Renewable Energy Future, featured panelists Neil Cooper, co-managing director of law firm Sorin Royer Cooper, Jamie Hahn, managing director of Solis Partners, Richard F.X. Johnson, senior vice president of the Matrix Development Group, and Guarav Naik, a partner with Geogenix. Tom Johnson, a journalist and cofounder of NJ Spotlight, moderated the panel.
Tom Johnson opened the discussion by asking the panelists about the role of the state in supporting clean energy businesses in New Jersey. Richard Johnson said that the government should invest in carefully evaluated programs. “How are resources being developed strategically?” he asked. “Our challenge is to find projects that create value and ensure that businesses remain competitive.” Johnson said that the government should provide some level of incentive to clean energy businesses.
Hahn agreed, but also stressed that the government should provide more certainty in the marketplace to guard against an economic bubble. “We need government to provide a softer landing,” he said.
Cooper said there has already been somewhat of a bubble, at least in the solar industry. “There has been a tremendous amount of activity in the solar sector,” he said. He also underscored the need for incentives. “The incentives that New Jersey offers are critical to the solar community,” he said.
Hahn predicted consolidation within the marketplace, and even suggested the potential for legislation to limit the size of new energy projects to ensure quality and avoid risk.
From a legal standpoint, Cooper said that recent laws have made regulations more uniform, which have made deals easier to negotiate, and have driven down the cost of doing business. Richard Johnson agreed that the right regulations are one component of supporting an industry that while growing is still in transition. He also cautioned against regulation undercutting innovation.
“The industry is in self-correction,” Richard Johnson said. “The industry needs to mature, and projects have to make economic sense….Let’s figure out what works, then find financing, then regulate,” he added.