New Jersey Continues Its Solar Ascent

Rutgers University

New Jersey has been a leader in solar power in the U.S., second only to California in terms of solar generation. Now the state’s largest utility—Public Service Electric & Gas Co.—wants to more than double its solar investment at a small cost to utility customers. State incentives and mandates have driven massive solar installations in the state, including PSE&G’s highly visible 200,000 panels affixed to utility poles in residential neighborhoods. The company installed the panels to help meet a state mandate that requires power companies draw 23% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.

The state’s solar financing program—which involves Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs)—has been another major driver of solar success in New Jersey. For every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a solar project generates, it earns one SREC. These accumulate in an electronic account and can be sold to utilities, generating income for solar panel owners.

The program has helped incentivize major solar projects in the state, including a massive solar canopy installation at Rutgers University which will be completed in January 2012 and will cover 32 acres of parking lot and generate 8 megawatts of power, equal to the energy consumption of 1,000 households. Together with Rutgers’ earlier “solar farm,” a seven-acre ground-mounted solar facility generating 1.4 MW, the campus will be gleaning more than 60% of its electricity needs from solar in the near future.

And New Jersey made solar headlines again when PSE&G broke ground on a new solar farm this summer, which will transform a former toxic waste site in Hackensack into a solar facility. The six-acre lot was once home to a gas manufacturing plant and will turned to The Hackensack Solar Farm, with enough panels to power more than 200 homes.

The utility’s latest move is an expansion of its Solar 4 All program and would involve installing another 136 MW of solar power, and providing loans to homeowners and businesses to develop another 97 MW. According to a utility spokesperson, the needed $833 million would come from a modest rate increase to customers—about 84 cents per year to a typical customer.

Gov. Chris Christie attended the groundbreaking for the Hackensack Solar Farm and has championed the state’s solar progress. He recently signed legislation requiring utilities to purchase more renewable power credits to keep solar costs low as federal tax credits expire.