Community solar programs in New Jersey allow both renters and homeowners to take part in supporting renewable energy without purchasing or installing solar panels on their property. Instead, subscribers can claim a portion of a large solar development near them. The customer receives community solar credits for the clean energy that is produced by their portion of the solar project and these credits reduce the customer’s monthly electricity bill. Then, the customer pays the community solar project for these credits but at a 10% discount, guaranteeing savings every month.
It can be a tidy solution for those who want to transition to clean energy, but does not own property suitable for solar panel installation or is renting an apartment. In addition to monthly savings on electricity bills, by opting into community solar, residents have the opportunity to support clean, locally produced energy.
Low- and-moderate income communities, which too often face environmental justice issues like energy inequity, represent obvious potential beneficiaries. Solar energy sources have been a great way to lower the cost of energy for customers, but historically have not been accessible to all.
PowerMarket, an industry leader in community solar management services, announced it partnered with Laureen Boles, former executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and current trustee of NJ Future, to support energy equity in New Jersey. Boles has been on the forefront of enhancing equity for decades.
PowerMArket manages over 150 MW of community solar across nine states, and is a recognized market leader in providing subscriber acquisition, management and billing services to the community solar industry. With its engagements in New Jersey, PowerMarket is pursuing the inclusion of affordable housing and low- and moderate-income households in its community solar projects.
After serving as a civil engineer and environmental planner in Philadelphia for 30 years, Boles decided to take her expertise in water management and learn about other environmental issues to help improve the overall health of communities that had been historically margi-nalized.
Boles lists several barriers that have restricted marginalized communities from accessing rooftop solar. She explained that “[t]raditionally in the solar market, customers have to be homeowners, the roof has to be in good condition. There was even a stipulation as to the age of the roof, which needed to be unobstructed and have a south-facing area. And whether the customer has the financial capacity to be able to afford solar panels. That left out a lot of communities.”
For many New Jersey residents, this is the first time they have the opportunity to take part in and benefit from clean energy. “Community solar allows [LMI communities] to have an opportunity to reduce their electric bill without the need to put solar panels on their roofs,” Boles explained. “Access to clean energy … addresses air quality issues, [while providing] economic benefits to LMI communities,” she said.
Community solar is not only accessible to more people but also can encourage the participation of those from previously marginalized communities by reserving spots for them. During the first year of the New Jersey Community Solar Energy Pilot program, Boles wrote letters of support for community solar projects that set aside spots for LMI residents.
“The opportunity to … bring to fruition some of those [community solar project] proposals was a win-win. Community solar is an opportunity to provide the LMI community with the services they need to address climate change … as well as provide [them] an economic benefit,” she said. “PowerMarket was of those proposals that provided benefits most directly to the LMI communities,” Boles added.
Ellen Barrett, part of the Business Development Team at PowerMarket said she was happy to see how clean energy works in New Jersey’s low-income communities.
“We are just thrilled to be a part of year one of this program. Because it is so forward-thinking … the majority of these projects [approved in year one] had to include LMI subscribers. So there’s just a lot of work the state is doing to ensure that this energy transition, or access to clean energy is for everyone.
We have been excited to be a part of helping facilitate that. We are not the developers, but we manage these projects and ensure that those LMI subscribers are being on-boarded as well,” Barrett said.
Boles explained that with community solar project arrays are built off-site and then customers, including renters, can participate in the clean energy program. Subscribers are not directly connected to the solar array.
They can be down the road, across town or even all the way across the state. But all subscribers must be located in the same utility service area as the project to which they have subscribed.
Boles said that what she found as one of the greatest opportunities in taking part of this program was the opportunity for every person to get involved in climate change mitigation.
“We can all do our small parts. And I think this is a great opportunity for us to not only get involved in clean energy, but, to impact climate change mitigation.”
“Community solar allows [LMI communities] to have an opportunity to reduce their electric bill without the need to put solar panels on their roofs.” — Laureen Boles