This summer, the cast of Jersey Shore might find it easier to get a tan by leaning over the nearest solar photovoltaic panel instead of making an appointment at their favorite tanning salon.
New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities announced this week it has joined a prestigious renewable energy club, becoming the third US state to pass the 1-gigawatt (GW) mark in total installed solar capacity.
More than 1,008 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity has been installed across 20,340 projects, putting the Garden State on track to meet its 22.5% by 2021 renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target and joining only California and Arizona in the 1GW club.
Solar, Solar, Everywhere
New Jersey has long been one of the country’s solar leaders, despite being the most densely populated state in America. Unlike other locations, one key to Jersey’s solar success has been putting PV panels in every available space.
The state’s largest utility, PSE&G, has championed this approach through its “Solar 4 All” program, which is on track to finish installing 80MW of new PV capacity early this year. The program cleverly targets used utility poles to get 40MW of pole-attached distributed solar generation onto the grid, in addition to another 40MW of large centralized solar farms.
Solar Power Generates Green Jobs
Even though the state recently fell to third overall among US states in installed solar capacity, 2012 was still a banner year. More than 415MW of new solar was added to the state’s grid in 2012, a 33% increase over 2011, equivalent to the power demands of 139,000 homes.
All these installations have created a strong clean energy economy. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates there are now more than 5,700 in-state green jobs, and more solar company locations than tanning salons. As a New Jersey native, let me just say that’s a significant feat!
The wealth of solar has also had ripple effects for utility customers, reducing capacity and congestion prices for electricity transmission, providing utility bill credits for excess solar through net metering, and easing project financing through solar renewable energy credits. (SRECs).
SRECs and RPS have been key
In fact, strong government policies are the most important factor in the state’s solar surge. When the New Jersey Clean Energy Program was established in 2001, only six solar installations existed across the state – quite an increase from then to today.
New Jersey’s SREC program was the first of its kind in America and provides direct financial incentives for solar generation. Every 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated earns one SREC for the project owner. Those SRECs can then be sold on the SREC market for the first 15 years of the project’s life, and payment amounts ranged from $225 to $390 per MWh in 2012.
Solar power has also benefited from a direct but oft-changed carve-out within the state’s overall RPS. The carve-out was established in 2006 at 2.12% by 2021, revised upward in 2010 to target 5,316 gigawatt-hours of generation by 2026, and then revised again in 2012 for an ultimate goal of 4.1% of all retail electricity sales by 2028.
Jersey Strong, Solar Strong
While New Jersey’s pro-solar policies have often changed and the state has slipped a bit in the national ranks, its outlook remains sunny. “Although the New Jersey solar market has seen volatility, we are confident it will continue to be a leader both in innovating policy mechanisms to grow the industry and in installing solar to power homes and businesses,” said Carrie Hitt, SEIA senior vice president of state affairs.
So for now, at least, it looks like Jersey Strong also means solar strong.
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.