Diverse Voices: Communities of Color to Benefit From NJBPU’s Decision Regarding Solar Access


Photo courtesy of Vivint Solar

AC JosepH Media

TRENTON — The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has adopted a permanent community solar program and third community solar solicitation will allow communities of color to take a much bigger role in the state’s clean energy push, a coalition of organizations said this week.

The collective members of the NJ Shines Coalition and Clean Energy Jobs NJ Coalition applauded the board for its decision.

“Expanding equitable access to clean energy is particularly important because LMI (low and moderate income) communities, especially communities of color, face disproportionately high utility bills and exposure to air pollution from fossil fuels, often with serious impacts on health and wellbeing,” the coalition said in a statement on Wednesday. “These inequities are further exacerbated every day we delay the transition to 100% clean energy.”

The permanent program rules will increase equitable access to clean energy by meaningfully eliminating barriers for low- and moderate- income (LMI) residents to participate.

The permanent program rules contain the following changes that will allow for increased access:

  • Allowing LMI residents to self-attest their income on community solar applications as an acceptable income verification method. There is no place in the climate movement for gatekeeping clean energy, or requiring our neighbors to exhaustively document their struggles in order to receive support.
  • Consolidated billing, which simplifies and improves the experience for community solar subscribers.
  • Increased capacity – The last community solar solicitation saw 800 megawatts’ worth of projects apply for only 150 megawatts of capacity. Increasing NJ’s community solar capacity will make New Jersey competitive with other states’ community solar progress (e.g., New York has turned on a gigawatt of community solar). The increase in capacity can also be aided by federal funds ($7 billion) recently earmarked for expanding community solar programs in the Inflation Reduction Act.

The coalition added: “Community solar is a powerful tool to expand equitable access to the benefits of solar regardless of income level or housing type, and to provide every New Jerseyan the opportunity to choose local, reliable, and lower-cost clean energy solutions. Low- and moderate-income (LMI) subscribers will now save a minimum of 15% annually, and often much more, on their electricity bills.”

The group said there is still important work to be done, such as deepening support for community-owned projects and workforce development and increasing community engagement.

“We can’t leave anyone behind in the transition to 100% clean energy, and community solar is key to expanding equitable access for all New Jersey residents,” said Elowyn Corby, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for national non-profit Vote Solar, in a statement. “Today also marks one year since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which supercharged clean energy’s exponential growth across the country. What we’re seeing today is that the sky really is the limit for clean, local, and equitable clean energy.”

“NJBPU’s community solar program — from its infancy as a pilot project to its now permanent status — has been a clear clean energy victory for New Jersey. There are hundreds of thousands of residents that want to go solar, but barriers to adoption stopped them in the past. The adoption of a permanent community solar program — with its increased capacity and streamlined application process — makes it easier for all residents to go solar and save money and allow New Jersey to generate more in-state clean solar power,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.

“New Jersey LCV applauds the BPU for the permanent Community Solar Program. Community solar opens the  doors to clean energy access for low and moderate-income families and renters. Beneficiaries could see significant savings on their energy bills,” said Allison McLeod, Senior Policy Director, New Jersey LCV. “In addition to being good for our wallets, community solar is clean, renewable energy, which is better for our climate and for public health. As we seek to transition away from dirty sources of energy, community solar has the potential to meet a significant portion of our energy capacity needs in New Jersey by 2035, and we are excited to see the program expanding.”

“New Jersey has long needed a solar program that allows residents in multi-household dwellings to avail themselves of a clean energy source. It is a big step in the right direction that the BPU is now establishing such a continuing program. Members and constituents of the NAACP will gratefully participate.” said Keith Voos, Environmental Justice Chair of the Metuchen-Edison-Piscataway Branch of the NAACP.

“Energy equity is central to Neighborhood Sun’s mission, so we are thrilled to see the NJ BPU take a major step in the right direction in the new community solar program, which will benefit all New Jersey ratepayers, not just the select few.” said Gary Skulnik, CEO of Neighborhood Sun Benefit Corp.

“I tell everybody about community solar. It is amazing how we can utilize dead space for the common good. Unused and overlooked rooftops of warehouses and commercial buildings can house solar panels that generate clean energy for the surrounding community. Those living in apartments around that vicinity, for example, can tap into that community solar project for their energy needs and lower their bills. Community solar is an equalizer and makes it possible for those directly impacted by polluting dirty energy  to benefit,” said Winn Khuong, Executive Director of Action Together New Jersey Education Fund.

“Today’s announcement marks a significant step forward in creating a more just and sustainable New Jersey economy,” said Richard Lawton, Executive Director of the NJ Sustainable Business Council.  “The transition to a clean energy economy presents both an opportunity and an imperative to more equitably distribute economic, social and environmental benefits and costs.  Making community solar more readily available to low- and moderate-income households helps bring this larger vision closer to becoming a reality.”

The permanent community solar program can quickly make clean, affordable, renewable energy accessible for more New Jersey residents while contributing to the state economy and creating family-sustaining jobs. This is an important step forward for environmental justice, and New Jersey advocates are optimistic about the future of community solar in the state.

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