N.J. Achieves Solar Milestone
August 14, 2009
By James M. O'Neill -
New Jersey has become a surprisingly legitimate contender for the nickname "sunshine state," with the highest number of solar energy installations of any state save California.
Energy officials this week celebrated the latest New Jersey solar milestone - the state now has more than 4,000 solar installations.
The installations, which range from a few panels on private homes to more than 7,700 panels on a field at Rutgers University, combine to produce 90 megawatts, which can generate power to 12,000 households. Seven years ago the state had only six solar installations.
"We have had really good policies and have made an effort to work with the solar industry and the utilities," said Jeanne M. Fox, president of the state's Board of Public Utilities. "Within three or four years we expect to have solar installations generating 400 megawatts. We already have more per capita than California."
To mark the 4,000-installation milestone, officials highlighted the variety of buildings that now have solar power.
Fox was on hand at the Birch Arms in Paterson, a $5.7 million, 15-unit apartment building opened in February 2008 for homeless people with special needs.
The building, constructed by the non-profit New Jersey Community Development Corp., has about 90 solar panels on the roof to generate 18 kilowatts of power. The $165,000 system cost the corporation about half that after state rebates.
The solar installation has cut electric costs for the common rooms in half, said Bob Guarasci, the corporation's president. In addition, the state's system of credits for those who own solar installations will provide the center up to $15,000 each year. "That lets us put more money into social services for our residents," Guarasci said.
The credits are part of New Jersey's new Solar Renewable Energy Credit system, designed to create a vibrant solar market. One credit, or SREC, is issued for each 1,000 kilowatt hours that a solar system generates. The owners of the credits can then sell them on the open market, providing a source of revenue to offset the cost of installing the units.
In most cases SRECs will replace the state's earlier rebate program that helped subsidize the cost of installing solar panels. Rebates will remain for some residential installations.
The solar project at Birch Arms was a collaboration between the BPU's Clean Energy Program and the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. The HMFA has already financed 39 multifamily housing projects statewide over the past three years that have solar energy components, said Marge DellaVecchia, the HMFA's executive director. Combined, the projects generate 1.7 megawatts of energy and account for $5 million in rebates.
"That's an important concept, because these are self-sufficient buildings, and these solar projects help lower their operating expenses," DellaVecchia said.
HMFA will continue to finance residential solar installations with $15 million from the economic stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year. About $7 million will cover HMFA grants to build solar energy projects on its income-qualified multifamily buildings. HMFA will own the credits developed through the program, and the money raised from them will be used to create a revolving fund to finance additional installations.
The rest of the stimulus money will go toward a low-interest loan program for energy-efficiency upgrades at single-family and multifamily homes.