Today, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) approved the state’s Community Solar Energy Pilot Program Rules.
The pilot program, designed to generate crucial market information and implementation data, will ultimately inform the development of a permanent community solar program over the next three years. In developing the pilot, staff created a flexible program that the board may evaluate and adjust over the life of the program in order to maximize its success, says the NJBPU.
Notably, in order to ensure that all New Jerseyans have access to solar, the pilot will earmark 40% of the overall program capacity for low- and moderate-income projects.
“Environmental justice for those who have been left behind is one of the cornerstones of my administration,” says Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J. “The Community Solar Pilot Program will enable those who have not been able to access the benefits of solar to do so.”
“Solar has been extremely successful in New Jersey – with the state having passed 100,000 installations in 2018 – but has not been accessible for everyone,” adds Joseph L. Fiordaliso, NJBPU’s president. “The point of this pilot program is to take the first step toward ensuring that we change this dynamic.”
In order to join, customers sign up for a community solar subscription, through which they either purchase an ownership share of the community solar system or sign up for a recurring monthly subscription. The benefit of participating is represented as a bill credit on each subscriber’s utility bill. The application for the pilot program is being developed in consultation with a broad group of stakeholders and will be considered by the board at a meeting in the near future.
The pilot program has an annual capacity limit of 75 MW for the first year and at least 75 MW for the second and third years (roughly estimated at enough to cover the electric usage of 45,000 residential homes).
The board notes that solar is a critical component of Murphy’s clean energy agenda, which includes a stated goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.
“Community solar gives everyone, regardless of their income level or what kind of building they call home, the opportunity to benefit from safe, healthy, affordable solar power,” comments Pari Kasotia, Mid-Atlantic director at Vote Solar. “We thank Governor Murphy, state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and the BPU for showing the state and the nation what it means to build a just and equitable clean energy economy. This is the kind of leadership our communities and our climate need and deserve.”
“Today’s ruling was one of the final steps to getting the community solar pilot program up and running in communities across New Jersey,” adds Brandon Smithwood, policy director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “We expect developers will be building projects in about a year and customers will be subscribed to community solar projects and seeing the savings on their energy bills within the next two years.”
Vote Solar and CCSA note that New Jersey has a significant community solar opportunity with room to grow well beyond the 20,000-30,000 customers that will be served by the newly approved pilot program.
“As sunny as today’s BPU decision is, we’re still just scratching the surface of New Jersey’s community solar opportunity, and we hope to work with state leaders to continue improving and expanding this critical clean energy program in years to come,” continues Smithwood.
The rules voted on today will become official once they are published in the state register. The NJBPU will now finalize the application process for the new program, which should open to developers by March, and local planning boards should start receiving projects proposals from developers in the coming year, according to Vote Solar and CCSA, which have long-championed New Jersey’s community solar program.