Solar Landscape’s portfolio includes a rooftop solar system at 1 County Road, Building A, in Secaucus. — Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
State officials are doubling down on a program that has brought solar panels to warehouses across New Jersey while creating low-cost clean energy for thousands of residents.
The initiative, known as the Community Solar Energy Program, is set to expand after Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed a bill that would allow solar developers and property owners to increase their participation. Both groups have benefited in recent years from a pilot version of the program, which enables solar companies to lease the rooftops of commercial buildings, providing space to build new panel systems and the chance to sell discounted energy to nearby residents.
The new law allows the state Board of Public Utilities to approve additional community solar projects based on overall power capacity, officials said. Specifically, it calls for the agency to conditionally register 225 megawatts prior to June 1, 2024, plus an additional 275 megawatts by that date if qualified applications exceed 225 megawatts.
The BPU announced early last month that it had received more than 300 applications equating to more than 300 megawatts of new capacity for the permanent Community Solar Energy Program. The new law, S3123, calls for another 250 megawatts prior to June 1, 2025, if qualified applications exceed 500 megawatts and at least an additional 150 megawatts per year thereafter.
“I am proud to continue expanding our nation-leading Community Solar Energy Program while eliminating barriers for prospective applicants,” Murphy said Jan. 4 after signing the measure. “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.”
Murphy has hailed community solar as a central piece of his push for renewable energy and a green economy in New Jersey. The BPU voted last August to make the program permanent after the multiyear pilot program, having approved 150 projects totaling 243 megawatts of capacity during the trial period.
The program has required that at least 51 percent of the power generated goes to low- and moderate- income customers, providing discounted energy while creating new revenue streams for businesses. At the time of the vote last summer, 29 of the 150 projects approved have reached commercial operation and provided more than 6,000 New Jersey households with a combined 50 megawatts of solar power.
“Advancing our community solar goals will help ensure more New Jersey residents have access to clean energy,” said Christine Guhl-Sadovy, president of the Board of Public Utilities. “Under Governor 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.”
Notably, the policy has helped many commercial real estate owners in the state become involved with renewable energy. That includes major industrial players such as Prologis, which is partnering with Asbury Park-based Solar Landscape.
“Since the time of Thomas Edison, New Jersey has played a crucial role in the evolution of electricity, and 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,” said Shaun Keegan, CEO and co-founder of Solar Landscape. “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. 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.”
State officials have said the program, which was created under a law signed by Murphy in 2018, also provides a way help those who rent, lack control of their roof, live in a multifamily building, do not have property suitable for solar or cannot afford the cost of installation to benefit from the cost savings and access to clean energy. S3123, meantime, also aims to simplify the process by which residents apply to receive the lower-cost energy produced by community solar and provide subscribers with a more seamless consolidated energy bill.
“Our Community Solar Energy Pilot Program was an immense success, outpacing expectations and delivering rate savings to thousands of New Jersey households,” said state Sen. Bob Smith, co-sponsor and chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “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.”