As an alternative power source, solar energy is one of the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy sources available. More than 81.4 gigawatts power over 15.7 million homes in the U.S., and the solar market has grown an average of 49% each year for the past decade. Nearly 2.5 million individual installations — from residential rooftop systems to large utility-scale systems — add hundreds of megawatts of electricity to the grid annually.
With the evolution of more progressive regulatory policies, decreasing equipment costs, and more innovative technology, solar has become a primary source of new electrical capacity throughout the country. But not everyone’s home is suited to support a solar system.
Introducing the community solar approach. These projects provide a much greater access to solar energy while helping subscribers to save on their electric bills. In New Jersey, community solar encourages local clean energy development that connects directly to the communities it serves without compromising the state’s preservation of protected lands and open space.
Community Solar: A Benefit for All Communities
In 2015, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a study evaluating the potential of community solar. This program — when executed correctly — can provide everyone with solar access. The beauty of community solar is that it gives everyone access to alternative power sources, which reduce energy bills, save money, and help the environment.
In 2017, New Jersey established a three-year pilot program designed to increase and support solar projects within the community. Currently, more than 100,000 homes and businesses in the state benefit from solar. Because it’s not possible, nor practical, for everyone to install solar panels on their roofs, the community solar program provides an alternate way for users to access solar energy.
In 2018, Governor Phil Murphy signed Bill A-3723/S-2314 into law. The bill included community solar provisions in the renewable energy omnibus legislation. The bill’s provisions also included offshore wind, rooftop solar, and battery storage.
This community solar model provides more equitable access to solar’s clean air and money saving benefits. When located within a subscriber’s electric utility service territory, the panels can be installed anywhere:
- On a municipal landfill or brownfield
- Over a neighborhood parking lot
- On the roof of an apartment complex
- In a field adjacent to the local elementary school
Participants (i.e. subscribers) can either purchase an ownership share of the system or enroll in a monthly subscription plan. These community solar subscribers, whether they’re residential, industrial, or commercial, receive credits on their monthly utility bills equal to their share of the energy produced by the array. Residents including renters, apartment dwellers, and low-income households can also participate and benefit from the program.
Everyone benefits from participating in a community solar project because:
- It yields less expensive energy now and/or in the future
- It offers fair access to solar power for all subscribers
- It encourages a much wider participation in the clean energy future
- It centers on community-based power
Championing Alternative Power Sources
Late in 2019, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved 75 MW of community solar in 45 projects, representing one-third of the state’s Community Solar Energy Pilot Program’s total capacity. The approved projects move the state closer to the program mandate of at least 51% solar installations serving low- to moderate-income communities. Currently, the state’s electricity receives 4.45% of its power from solar energy, although Governor Murphy’s goal is to reach 100% clean energy by 5050.
The NJBPU’s Clean Energy Program administers the state’s Community Solar Pilot Program. To participate, each solar project requires a minimum of 10 subscribers. Participants can carry their subscriptions within the project’s geographic limits or sell their portions back to the project owner.
Recognizing the need for alternative power systems within low and moderate-income communities, the New Jersey Community Solar Program has allocated 40% of the program capacity to projects in these areas. This percentage — higher than other states’ community solar programs — will enable environmental justice communities and underserved households to receive credits on their energy bills while benefitting from renewable energy.
To learn more about Community Solar projects in New Jersey, connect with energy specialist and CREA United member Michael Sean McGeary, of Office Management Services. His company serves commercial customers, helping them to improve their energy management and to develop and implement corporate sustainability programs associated with energy, solar, LED lighting, and demand response programs.