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Bill Strengthening NJ’s Community Solar Program Signed by Governor Murphy

Karli Marshall

Vote Solar

January 4, 2024

Today, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill to strengthen the state’s community solar program, increasing its overall size and expanding access by meaningfully eliminating barriers for low- and moderate- income (LMI) residents’ participation.

Members of the NJ Shines Coalition and the Clean Energy Jobs NJ Coalition applaud this step forward, and are thrilled to round out the legislative session with a major win for equitable access to clean energy.

Community solar is a powerful tool to expand 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. As part of the permanent Community Solar Energy Program (CSEP), 51 percent of the program’s capacity is devoted to serving low- to moderate-income (LMI) subscribers. In addition, subscribers will see a minimum bill credit of 15%, resulting in meaningful guaranteed savings for the communities across the state that stand to benefit the most.

The legislation, A4782/S3123, accomplishes three key things:

  • Streamlining Eligibility Verification

This legislation puts self-attestation, a key equity provision within New Jersey’s permanent Community Solar Energy Program, into law. Previously, qualifying for low- and moderate-income (LMI) community solar required extensive documentation of income. This can be frustrating, embarrassing, and decrease overall adoption.

  • Allowing municipalities to facilitate access for low income subscribers

This bill allows the sharing of necessary information so that municipalities can identify and subscribe eligible community members to automatically receive energy bill savings. This change ensures that the benefits of clean energy flow to those who need them the most, since at least 80% of municipally aggregated subscribers will be low and moderate income.

  • Updating the community solar program’s size

This legislation increases the amount of community solar that NJ will enjoy. The need for community solar, and the public enthusiasm for it, currently outstrips the size of the program. This December, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) announced that it had received enough applications for the Community Solar Energy Program to generate more than 300 megawatts of new solar. By modestly increasing the program’s capacity, the bill accelerates the state’s clean energy transition and expands access to clean energy for more New Jersey residents, regardless of income or housing type.

Expanding equitable access to clean energy is particularly important because overburdened 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 bill’s Prime Sponsors are Senators Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein in the Senate, and Representatives John McKeon, Daniel Benson, and Representative Raj Mukherji in the Assembly.

“As we march towards a 100% clean energy future in 2035 for New Jersey, every action that we take in that direction should keep the most vulnerable among us at the forefront of what we do to achieve that.” said Uyen “Winn” Khuong, Executive Director, Action Together New Jersey. “Community solar is one of the most exciting and equitable ways to expand access to clean energy and this bill lowers several barriers for low-income families to save on their energy bills. I am thankful for the leadership of members of the Legislature and the vision of the Governor to get this bill passed into law.”

“New Jersey’s community solar program has rapidly emerged as a national leader in the fight for an equitable clean energy future.” said Elowyn Corby, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for national non-profit Vote Solar. “We’re grateful to the state leaders who have pushed to make this vision a reality, and to the communities across the state who’ve tirelessly worked to prove that we don’t need to choose between speed and equity in our clean energy transition. When we commit to a clean energy transition that puts the interests, health, and wellbeing of people at its center, the sky really is the limit.”

“Making solar more available to low income, urban and people of color communities is environmental justice. Newark residents are on the front lines of overlapping health, climate, economic, racial and democratic crises and this bill helps tackle all of them. It will stimulate business, address climate justice, and reduce the number of kids and seniors gasping for air from an asthma attack, running to the ER, missing school and work, and suffering premature death disproportionately,” said South Ward Environmental Alliance founder Kim Gaddy, a 4th generation Newarker with three asthmatic children.

“This bill is a smart, much needed piece of legislation. It will not only bring down energy bills for low and middle income New Jersayans but also holds strong potential for improved health outcomes for those folks as well, promoting a transition away from reliance on polluting fossil fuels. As such, it is an important step toward addressing long-standing environmental inequities suffered in overburdened communities” said Keith Voos, Environmental Justice Chair of the Metuchen-Edison-Piscataway Branch of the NAACP.

“NJBPU’s community solar program – from its infancy as a pilot project to its now permanent status — has been a clear clean energy home run for New Jersey.  But it’s time to make it even easier. There are hundreds of thousands of residents that want to go solar, but barriers to adoption stopped them in the past. There’s clear demand for community solar and the easier permanent community solar program – with its increased capacity and streamlined application process – will bring more solar for all residents and real savings. Community solar is an obvious solution for New Jersey to generate more in-state clean renewable energy and we thank the Legislature for sending this bill to Gov. Murphy’s desk,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.

“This bill is a historic step toward clean energy justice, by making solar energy more accessible to low and moderate income households in New Jersey.” said Anjuli Ramos, Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Everyone deserves access to cleaner energy options regardless of zip code, and this legislation breaks down barriers that normally keep overburdened communities from tapping into solar. The New Jersey Chapter is also pleased to see the capacity for solar increase in the legislation, as we feel the ever increasing urgency of the climate crisis after one of the hottest years on record. This bill is a win for both climate action and climate justice.”

“Regardless of the ZIP Code that you live in, color of your skin or your income, you should be able to get your electricity from a renewable energy source. Making community solar increasingly accessible to homeowners and renters alike is critical to shutting off fossil fuel plants that disproportionately impact these same neighborhoods,”  said Clean Water Action NJ State Director Amy Goldsmith.

“By expanding community solar in overburdened communities, this bill will create good jobs for local residents, reduce lung disease, and fight climate change where that’s all needed the most,” said Empower NJ’s David Pringle.

“During the recent extreme flooding, we once again saw patients from marginalized communities who required emergency responder assistance so they could get to the hospital for life-saving treatment,” said Dan Quinlan, co-leader of the Clinicians for Climate Action New Jersey. “On-the-ground experiences like this are why New Jersey’s health professionals are very pleased to see the passage of this legislation. This program will go a long way toward helping New Jersey equitably reduce carbon pollution – the cause of the extreme weather we are seeing all too often.”

“Our clean, renewable energy future must be accessible to everyone. Community solar removes barriers for low-income New Jerseyans to get the economic and health benefits of solar energy, even if they don’t own their own homes or have access to their roofs,” said Allison McLeod, Senior Policy Director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “With the passing of this legislation, the sun is shining on a new day for our renewable energy future.”

“Residents of NJ should benefit in numerous ways from increased community solar energy. Air pollutants, particularly particulate matter and ozone, are associated with exacerbation of lung and cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease, increases in asthma rates, increases in neurodegenerative disease, learning delays, and premature birth” said Aviva Gans, PT MSPT, a pediatric physical therapist and member of Clinicians for Climate Action New Jersey. “While the benefits from decreased carbon emissions and climate change will take time, many health benefits could be realized more rapidly. Generally fossil fuel burning plants are located in marginalized communities where people suffer most from exposure to pollutants. As fossil fuel based energy is replaced by alternative energy, like solar power, the surrounding  population could reap significant health benefits.”

“Community solar is key to an equitable clean energy transition, but additional barriers for LMI subscribers have been acting as deterrents to prevent many of the people this program was designed to help from participating,” said Gary Skulnik, CEO and Founder of Neighborhood Sun Benefit Corp. “This kind of legislation is essential to meet the growing demand for community solar while also ensuring that the needs of traditionally underserved communities are centered at the forefront of the program’s growth.”

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