Mapping New Jersey’s Clean Energy Future

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By Nicole Sitaraman

I recently spoke at NJ Spotlight’s event, “A Map to New Jersey’s Clean Energy Future.” There is exciting potential ahead for the state, as New Jersey policymakers look for ways to embrace new, competitive clean energy technology to modernize its grid. While New Jersey is a national leader in solar deployment, however, in many ways the state is at a crossroads on how to achieve a clean energy future for all.

On the one hand, like much of the country, New Jersey’s energy grid is aging. Upgrading utility infrastructure, such as poles and wires, requires a hefty sum from ratepayers, and the traditional, centralized electricity delivery system is vulnerable to outages during severe weather events. On the other hand, innovation in distributed solar and battery technology offers increased resiliency in the face of extreme weather events, and leads to lower rates for consumers through inserting competition into a once-closed market.

New Jerseyans are looking to policymakers for smart decisions that will enable clean, affordable, accessible energy for all. Distributed solar and batteries, and the innovation and efficiency offered by third-party competition, should be a key piece of delivering on the ambitious goals set forth by Governor Murphy’s Energy Master Plan.

Real benefits for real people

The state’s existing policies have contributed to the rapid expansion of rooftop solar. New Jersey’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) provides for 5.1% of the state’s energy to come from solar by 2021. The state’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) registration helps fairly compensate solar system owners for the benefits their systems provide, by allowing solar projects to generate credits that can be traded as commodities to meet the state’s RPS requirements. Successful implementation of these policies has led to the creation of over 6,000 solar energy jobs in New Jersey today.

The environmental benefits of rooftop solar have been evident. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, enabling cleaner air, utilizing the existing built environment (e.g. rooftops) to create energy, rooftop solar has brought clean energy directly to communities where they live and work.

Beyond environmental benefits, rooftop solar continues to give residents more control over their bills, and also lowers the burden on ratepayers by reducing the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades. An analysis conducted by Synapse Energy Economics showed that during a July 1 to July 7, 2018 heat wave, distributed solar reduced New England power costs by 14% of what wholesale costs would have been without distributed solar. Additionally, solar service plans from as little as zero up-front costs offer those on fixed incomes an affordable electricity rate and protection from unexpected utility price hikes.

The potential of batteries

When paired with batteries, the potential benefits distributed solar offers New Jerseyans are even greater. For example, solar and batteries are built to last through extreme weather events like hurricanes, providing power for emergency centers and homes when it is needed most. Plus, when aggregated with the help of smart inverters, solar plus batteries can create a “virtual power plant” that offers greater resiliency and smarter, more efficient power management for entire communities.

New Jersey has not yet begun to optimize use of battery storage. However, we can look to new programs in other states to see the exciting possibilities that lie ahead for the state

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs, for example, are a common-sense policy framework for encouraging the adoption of solar plus storage. Such programs are being implemented in New England and actively discussed in New York. BYOD programs enable customers to purchase home batteries through any source and receive credits on their monthly bills. Customers can install battery storage at their residences and then share access to the storage with the utility to drive down costs for all ratepayers during peak hours. This approach makes customers true partners with the utility in the effort to reduce costs, shift peak consumption and facilitate greater grid resiliency.

Indeed regarding PSE&G’s proposals to utilize tariff based mechanisms to procure behind the meter solar and storage on Long Island, the New York Department of Public Service determined that PSEG LI “initiate an open solicitation of third party aggregators to install energy storage solutions paired with solar, while also providing load relief through direct load control.”

California and Puerto Rico also have launched ambitious programs to accelerate deployment of solar plus batteries in pursuit of clean energy goals, improved management of energy peak events, and improved resiliency.

Looking to the future of New Jersey

We are now faced with the question of how New Jersey policymakers will address innovations in energy storage. Currently, the state’s largest utility is proposing to spend billions of dollars in ratepayer funds on programs such as a Smart Home pilot and a Non-Wires Alternatives pilot that will impact customers and private market participants for decades to come. Ensuring private market solar and battery experts can participate in these proceedings would enable them to propose and test concepts with the potential to increase energy efficiency and cost savings for consumers, as they have done in other states.

New Jersey policymakers should strive to encourage fair competition in every aspect of New Jersey’s clean energy deployment, in addition to continuing to offer progressive rate design. Together, these approaches can ensure that the health, safety and cost-savings benefits of rooftop solar and batteries are passed on to New Jerseyans across all income brackets. Upholding principles of competition not only drives down costs but is critical for the state’s goals of greater diversity, economic development and community revitalization. In the long run, competition will enable market players from under-served and underrepresented communities to contribute to our modernizing grid as entrepreneurs and owners of distributed energy resources.

About the Author: Nicole Sitaraman, Public Policy Senior Manager at Sunrun. Nicole is a Senior Manager of Public Policy at Sunrun, Inc.  In this role, Nicole manages Sunrun’s engagement in legislative and regulatory policy initiatives in New Jersey, Maryland, District of Columbia and Pennsylvania.  She serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Maryland-DC-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA).

Prior to joining Sunrun, Nicole served as an Assistant People’s Counsel in the Office of the People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia (DC OPC) and represented District of Columbia ratepayers before the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Council of the District of Columbia, PJM Interconnection, as well as federal regulatory agencies.  Prior to working in renewable energy advocacy, Nicole was a civil rights litigator representing numerous workers in race discrimination, sexual harassment, environmental and nuclear whistleblower retaliation cases. Nicole is a member of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and Steering Committee Member of Interfaith Power & Light, DC.Md.NoVA. Last year, Nicole was selected as a “Catalyst” in the 2018 50 List – Nicole earned a B.A. in English from Yale University and a J.D. from Boston University School of Law.

This post was supported by Sunrun; image from PixaBay.

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