BPU approves agreement with Rutgers for dual-use solar pilot program

Is solar photovoltaic infrastructure compatible with agricultural or horticultural production? A new pilot program by Rutgers University, funded by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, aims to find out.

On Monday, the BPU announced it has approved an agreement with the Rutgers Agrivoltaics Program to facilitate the development and implementation of a Dual-Use Solar Energy Pilot Program over the next three years.

The pilot program will allow for the installation and operation of up to 200 megawatts of direct current of solar installation capacity over three years, extendable by the BPU to up to 300 MWdc over five years. Individual solar projects would be limited to 10 MWdc.

The pilot program and the results from its associated research requirements will inform a permanent program that includes standards for construction and operation of dual-use solar energy projects.

BPU President Joe Fiordaliso said he is eager to see the potential impact of the program.

“This action by the board represents the next exciting step in the expansion of our already-successful solar program,” he said. “Adding dual-use solar to our Community Solar, utility-scale solar and customer-sited solar programs will provide us with the renewable energy we need to reach the governor’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2035.

“The dual-use program provides a balanced approach to growing our solar industry while providing additional financial support to New Jersey’s working family farmers. We look forward to working with the Rutgers Agrivoltaics Program on this project.”

The pilot program will provide incentives to solar electric generation facilities, located on unpreserved farmland, which plan to maintain the land’s active agricultural or horticultural use. Dual-use solar can provide farmers with an additional stream of revenue, assisting with farm financial viability, enabling continued agricultural or horticultural production of land while also increasing the statewide production of clean energy.

It is anticipated that projects seeking to participate in the pilot program will be determined after a competitive process that considers price and non-price terms, as directed by the Dual-Use Solar Act of 2021.

The BPU also anticipates a straw proposal for the pilot program will be issued during summer 2023, followed by a robust public engagement process.

Doug Fisher, the long-serving but soon to be retiring commissioner of agriculture, said the program could have a big impact on agriculture.

“The approval of this pilot program will provide an avenue for New Jersey farmers to gain an additional revenue source, while also benefitting from the governor’s clean energy strategy,” he said. “The outstanding work being done by the Rutgers Experiment Station is an example of agricultural innovation and opportunity.”