Why HMH’s big move on solar could be (and should be) beginning of big push in New Jersey

Health System’s 50K panel project, which comes with significant savings to the bottom line, could be model for others — in all sectors

The numbers surrounding Hackensack Meridian Health’s transformative renewable energy partnership that it announced with Bernhard on Friday morning are incredible.

Consider this about the 30-year Energy-as-a-Service project:

  • The $134 million project (much of which will be paid by state and federal programs) will be the largest solar and battery storage system of any health provider in the U.S.;
  • The initiative comes with a promised 10% reduction in carbon emissions, 25% decrease in purchased electricity and 33% guaranteed energy savings;
  • The build will create hundreds of union jobs that will be needed to install the 50,000 American-made panels on 18 buildings throughout the HMH system.

Now realize this: The number of other potential projects in the state is huge.

Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett said he is thrilled HMH is leading the way on renewable energy in the health care space — he feels large systems have an obligation to do so. And he said he’s hopeful that HMH’s efforts will be a model for others.

“Today, improving health care extends far beyond developing great breakthrough treatments and embracing advanced technology, or even making care more convenient,” he said. “We understand that, if we truly want to make a difference, we need to address all the factors that impact health, which includes creating a healthier planet.”

Hackensack officials said the installation of the panels — which will begin at Hackensack University Medical Center — likely will take three years to be completed. And it will come at great value: $50 million of the cost will come from tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act, with the rest being absorbed by Bernhard.

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Christine Guhl-Sadovy said she hopes other large users across the state of New Jersey will understand the potential impact a project such as this could have — on their carbon emissions and their bottom line.

“I think as this project comes to fruition, it will demonstrate to other particularly large users the significant cost savings,” she said. “We’re so thrilled that Hackensack Meridian is taking advantage of the federal incentives to invest in clean energy and reducing their carbon emissions — that’s really important. But, for a large energy user like this, this type of project will help them save hundreds of thousands of dollars on their energy bills every year.”

The impact on the state and national economy doesn’t end there, Guhl-Sadovy said.

“We hope that everyone would be for all of our clean energy initiatives because they are so good, not just for the environment, but for New Jersey and economic development,” she said “But, with this project, we’re talking about American jobs, American manufacturing, local labor, cost savings and significant greenhouse gas reductions. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Bernhard CEO Ed Tinsley certainly can’t. Tinsley, whose company works around the country, said New Jersey is one of the best places to implement such a project — noting that it works for any industry.

In addition to support from Gov. Phil Murphy — “that’s incredibly important,” Tinsley said — the state’s utilities and unions are on board with the idea, too.

“I think New Jersey is in position to be a leader on this,” he said.

Garrett and HMH are in a position to be a global leader, too.

Garrett, who serves as the chair of the World Economic Forum’s Health and Healthcare Governance, said he knows he can bring the message to a broader audience.

In fact, he said he’s not going to wait until the next event (in January 2025) to get the word out.

“Addressing climate change is one of our strategic objectives at Davos,” he said. “I intend to follow up with the group this summer to talk about this project as a great example of how we, as an industry, can further our objective to reduce the impact of climate change.”

Garrett is glad HMH is out in front of the pack.

The project, he said, will help HMH meet its significant and aggressive clean energy goals: To cut its emissions in half by the year 2030 — and be carbon-neutral by the year 2050.

Garrett said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re deeply committed to doing our part to fight climate change,” she said. “There is no question that the health care industry with its mission to heal can play a major role.”