Back to the future: N.J. strengthens community solar program

Murphy signs bill that will increase access

At a time when costs are making offshore wind and electric vehicles challenging — and some are looking to new-age clean energy initiatives such as renewable natural gas and small modular nuclear — the state turned its attention to an old-school product: solar.

This week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed A4782/S3123, which strengthens New Jersey’s community solar program — a program proponents said expands access to clean energy and lowers utility costs for New Jersey households.

The Community Solar Energy Program allows individuals without the ability to install solar on their rooftops to access the benefits of solar energy, including significant energy savings. This bill simplifies the CSEP application process, provides CSEP subscribers with a more seamless consolidated energy bill and makes more capacity available to develop community solar across the state.

“I am proud to continue expanding our nation-leading Community Solar Energy Program while eliminating barriers for prospective applicants,” Murphy said. “All New Jersey families deserve access to affordable and clean energy, regardless of their ZIP code. This is another critical step forward in our pursuit of a stronger, fairer and greener future.”

Shaun Keegan, co-founder and CEO of Asbury Park-based Solar Landscape, couldn’t agree more.

His company has pursued projects big and small using the community solar model. He’s thrilled that Solar Landscape will be able to do more of it — and that the concept is catching on.

“This model began in New Jersey and, with Congressman Frank Pallone’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act, is now being duplicated across the country. Rooftop community solar can be built quickly, preserves precious open space, creates good union jobs and generates power closer to where it will be used,” he said.

“These advancements have allowed us to develop millions of square feet nationally, including with global logistics real estate leader Prologis, which is partnering with Solar Landscape to pursue projects on more than 30 million square feet of their buildings.”

To be fair, there is some concern around the idea of adding more solar projects. As is the case with all energy projects, some are worried about whether the grid has the power to handle the increased load.

A number of people voiced those concerns to Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight News. (Read the full report here.)

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, wasn’t one of them. He said the benefits of the program must be celebrated.

“(The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities‘) community solar program — from its infancy as a pilot project to its now permanent status — has been a clean energy home run for New Jersey,” he said. “There are hundreds of thousands of residents that want to go solar, but barriers to adoption stopped them in the past — and now it will be even easier.

“The sleeker permanent community solar program — with its increased capacity and streamlined application process — will bring more solar for all residents and real savings. Community solar is an obvious solution for New Jersey to generate more in-state clean renewable energy, and we thank Gov. Murphy, the Legislature and the NJBPU for allowing more residents to go solar.”

BPU President Christine Guhl-Sadovy said it’s about increasing access and opportunity.

“Advancing our community solar goals will help ensure more New Jersey residents have access to clean energy,” she said. “Under Gov. Murphy’s leadership, the BPU’s community solar program has been a national model, and today’s action will continue the success of the program by bringing the benefits of solar to more people while lowering utility bills for participants.”

State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway), chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, agreed.

“Our Community Solar Energy Pilot Program was an immense success, outpacing expectations and delivering rate savings to thousands of New Jersey households,” he said. “The new permanent Community Solar Energy Program will increase the energy procurement goals, extend financial savings to thousands more families and support New Jersey’s transition to clean energy.”

Keegan is ready. He said the program represents what New Jersey always has represented — being ahead of the curve on energy.

“Since the time of Thomas Edison, New Jersey has played a crucial role in the evolution of electricity,” he said. “Thanks to the Murphy administration, we will continue that momentum and innovation by putting community solar installations on commercial rooftops and delivering the energy to low/moderate-income residents at a substantial discount.”