By - Jim Vess

New Jersey creates community solar pilot, a first step in a establishing a permanent program

Energize Weekly, January 30, 2019

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) has approved a three-year pilot for developing community solar projects, also known as solar gardens, which is seen as a key component in newly elected Gov. Phil Murphy’s clean energy agenda.

The “Community Solar Pilot” will provide for up to 75 megawatts (MW) of solar installations in the first year, and at least 75 megawatts in the second and third years, generating enough electricity in total to serve the demand of 45,000 homes.

These community installations are usually ground based, and customers may sign up for monthly subscriptions or purchase a share in the installation. This enables customers to participate in solar who can’t access rooftop residential solar because they are renters, don’t have adequate rooftop solar exposure or because of cost.

Under existing community solar programs, participants get a credit on their electricity bills for their share of the kilowatt-hours the installation puts on the grid.

“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,” NJBPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso, said in a statement. “The point of this pilot program is to take the first step toward ensuring that we change this dynamic.”

The pilot will also earmark 40 percent of the generating capacity in the pilot for low- and moderate-income projects.

“Environmental justice for those who have been left behind is one of the cornerstones of my administration,” Murphy said in a statement. “The Community Solar Pilot Program will enable those who have not been able to access the benefits of solar to do so.”

Murphy, who took over in January, has set a goal of 100 percent clean energy for the state by 2050, including 3,500 MW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and more solar through initiatives such as the community solar pilot.

The goal of the pilot is to generate market information and implementation data that will be used to create a permanent community solar program over the next three years, the NJBPU said.

“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 board said.

There are 42 states with at least one community solar project on line, with 1,294 cumulative MW installed through the second quarter of 2018, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

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