By Baltimore Business Journal

Itâ¿¿s a race against the clock for Maryland homeowners interested in cleaner energy.

The Maryland Energy Administration said it will be changing the pricing structure of its Residential Clean Energy Grant Program. Grants that once totaled up to $8,000 for solar panels, and $2,000 for geothermal energy, will now be capped at $1,000.

The changes go into effect Monday at 5 p.m.

Companies were given short notice in order to avoid an avalanche of applications, said Douglas Hinrichs, solar and geothermal program manager for the MEA.

Hinrichs said the move was done to make sure the program would not run out of funding. Without the change, he said the program would have run out of its 2012 fiscal year funding of $6.3 million by the middle of next year.

Hinrichs said the increase in demand for cleaner energy necessitated the changes. The MEA received more than 6,200 applications for about $20 million in grants since fiscal year 2005, he said.

⿿We either give it all out now and we⿿re finished, or we lower the rate down to something graduated and make it last longer,⿝ Hinrichs said.

Business leaders in the clean energy industry said they were not surprised by the move, although the timing left many scrambling over the weekend.

Under the former solar pricing structure, residential homes could receive up to $10,000 in grant money for switching to solar. With grants now capped at $1,000, many customers who were on the fence wanted to take advantage of the old pricing structure before it was gone, said Teris Pantazes, owner of Seven Seas Energy.

⿿I have a customer whose grant amount was $8,000 under the current allotment, and under the new changes to it he would only get $1,000,⿝ Pantazes said. ⿿You better believe he and I met this weekend.⿝

Those looking to utilize the current grant structure must apply for a grant at the MEA offices by 5 p.m. Monday. Residents can also apply by mail, as long as the application is postmarked before 12 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The quick turnaround time led to an uptick in sales over the weekend, said Rick Peters, president of Solar Energy Services Inc.

⿿We definitely got a few sales that wouldn⿿t have happened this week,⿝ he said. ⿿I think that was pretty common in the industry.⿝

MEA officials had met with representatives from the solar industry over the past couple of months to discuss possible changes to the pricing structure. While the changes are not desirable in the short term, they are necessary, officials insisted, to ensure the continuation of the program.

⿿There might be short-term pain involved,⿝ Hinrichs said. ⿿But in the long term I think its the best decision.⿝

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

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