A quartet of bills Gov. Phil Murphy approved on Friday afternoon aim to make it cheaper for businesses and homes to switch to solar energy, prop up solar panels on farms across the state, and clear away red tape roadblocking the expansion of electric vehicles on the road.
Those four bills, Murphy said during the July 9 bill-signing ceremony at the Seaside Heights boardwalk, are meant to contribute to the state’s self-imposed clean energy goals.
“We are on our way to putting New Jersey firmly back in our rightful place as a world leader of innovation,” the governor said. “This modernization of our energy sector isn’t just going to be good for cleaner air and our longtime fight against climate change – which it will be – it’s going to be good for our economy.”
Murphy said he would like for the state to be totally reliant on clean and renewable energy by 2050, of which 34% would be solar energy. His goals call for the state to have 330,000 electric cars on the road by 2025 and offshore wind capacity of a massive 7,500 megawatts by 2035.
Pam Frank, head of ChargEVC-NJ, a coalition of environmental groups, car dealerships and utilities across the state, estimated that there are currently just roughly 41,000 electric cars on the road.
Matters such as affordability and worries about having ready access to a charging station could both continue to hamper the shift to EV’s, proponents contend.
Flooring it on EV’s
Two measures deal directly with infusing more electric vehicle charging centers into neighborhoods and communities.
Both of them look highly technical on the surface, proponents say, but do away with major hurdles for expanding EV charging infrastructure across the state. One measure, Senate Bill 3223, scales back municipal zoning and planning laws around building new charging stations.
“If you want to add charging infrastructure to your facility, existing facilities, you’ll be able to go in and file for a zoning permit, a $75 item. You’re taking $5,000, $10,000 off the cost by now going through that process,” Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, said in an interview in May.
“If you want to change things in New Jersey … you have to go through planning and zoning boards,” which can add upwards of six months. “This is going to make it a one- or two-month process to get approval,” he added.
Another law Murphy approved, Assembly Bill 1653, outlines dozens of ways that municipalities would be able to include electric vehicle charging stations in all manner of redevelopment projects.
“Most drivers will not consider an EV until they can see charging infrastructure out and around,” Frank said, calling this “the dreaded syndrome of range anxiety, for which there is a known cure.”
Shining a light on solar
Environmental officials and state lawmakers are aiming to overhaul New Jersey’s incentive program for absorbing the price that homeowners and businesses pay for setting up solar energy. This program is known as the solar renewable energy certificate program, which is in its second iteration under the new law Murphy approved Friday, Assembly Bill 4554.
Murphy said this program, called SREC-II, would “ensure stability in our solar marketplace” and “provided the financial incentive needed for homeowners and businesses to go solar.” It would succeed the state’s first SREC program.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities would have a year to set up the program, with the goal of the state generating a total of at least 3.75 gigawatts of new solar energy by 2026.
Joseph Fiordaliso, who heads the NJBPU, estimates that the state currently boasts roughly 142,000 solar installations.
Customers who generate their own solar electricity can sell it off to buyers in exchange for SRECS, allowing them to recoup the costs for building the solar panels. The dollar worth of each megawatt of solar energy started at $339 in 2014, and under this bill will be whittled down to $198 by 2026.
The goal is to create at least 1,500 megawatts of locally-produced solar energy and 750 megawatts from community solar facilities, by 2026.
The fourth law Murphy approved, Assembly Bill 5434, creates a statewide pilot program for farms to use some of their land for solar energy.
Rutgers University would head the study, along with the NJBPU and state Agriculture Department, according to the state Agriculture Secretary Douglass Fisher.
The pilot program lasts three years with an intent to generate 200 megawatts of farm-grown solar energy. Smith said there are upwards of 4,000 acres of farmland in the state that could boast dollar panels if the pilot program is a success.