New Jersey sets rules for community solar program

New Jersey is a national leader in residential solar installations, but many people cannot go solar because their property isn’t feasible for panels. They rent or live in a condo, or they can’t afford the upfront costs. Community solar offers these people a way to benefit from solar. Community solar enables individuals, businesses, or organizations to purchase or lease a “share” in a community solar project. If you join a community solar project, you receive a credit on your electric bill each month for the energy produced by your share.

Last month, the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) released proposed rules of a pilot community solar program. It is designed to develop 75 MW of community solar projects annually. The three-year pilot will set the stage for a subsequent fully-fledged community solar program. The proposed rules set community solar on a stable path to that goal.

The most notable aspect of the pilot is that at least half of the program will be targeted to low- and moderate-income populations. Specifically, 40% percent of the capacity of the pilot will be allocated to low-and moderate-income projects, with another 10% allocated for low-income community projects.

Other key highlights of the proposed rules include:

  • Subscribers will receive retail net metering rate for billing, and the value of the bill credit shall remain in effect for the life of the project.
  • The minimum number of subscribers for each project is 10. The maximum is 250 per one megawatt of installed capacity.
  • Multi-family buildings with a community solar project sited on their property are exempt from the 10-subscriber minimum if they demonstrate that the project is intended to provide quantifiable benefits to the households in the buildings.
  • No single subscriber shall subscribe to more than 40 percent of a community solar project’s total annual net energy.
  • The rules include explicit consumer protection standards.
  • Subscriptions are portable, provided that the subscriber remains within the original utility service territory and the same geographic limitations (if any) as the community solar pilot project to which they are subscribed.
  • Subscriptions may be sold or transferred back to the project owner by subscribers.
  • Projects shall not be allowed on preserved farmland and open space.
    Individual projects will be limited to under five megawatts.

Solar United Neighbors is enthusiastic about the low- and middle-income components of the rules, but we will be advocating to reduce the number of minimum subscribers to enable smaller, community-based projects. Additionally, we don’t see any reason to limit people to one project. We would also like to see a transparent application process to make it convenient for people to subscribe.

Two public hearings will be held on the proposed new rules on Thursday, November 8 at the Blumstein School of Planning and Policy, Rutgers University (33 Livingston Ave. New Brunswick). The first hearing will begin at 1 p.m. and the second at 5:30 p.m.

Written comments may also be submitted through November 30 by emailing to: rule.comments@bpu.nj.gov or mailing to: Aida Camacho-Welch, Secretary New Jersey Board of Public Utilities ATTN: BPU Docket Number: QO18060646 44 South Clinton Avenue, 3rd Floor, Suite 314 PO Box 350 Trenton, NJ 08625-0350.

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