Cleared for launch: NJ regulators approve 225 MW of community solar

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New Jersey has its first community solar pilot program and it’s sure to make waves. The program approved last week has an anticipated capacity of 225 MW, enough to power up to 30,000 homes and other customers.

As ambitious as this project may seem, some see it as the first step in turning the Garden State into the Solar Garden State. Vote Solar and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables (formerly GTM Research) now have identified a total of 3.5 million state residents that community solar has the potential to serve.

The project aims to serve the 75% of consumers who either can’t afford a rooftop installation of their own or who live in a residence that is unsuitable for a PV system through a cutout that allocates 40% of the overall capacity to serve these customers. Considering the current goal is to bring online 75 MW of solar the first year and a minimum of 75 MW in the two following years through the pilot, that means 30 MW annually and 90 MW total for low-income residents.

The project will also allow New Jersey to make strides towards the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target of 50% Class I renewable energy by 2030. This RPS initiative also features a maximum “cut-out” of 5.1% of energy coming from solar by 2021, with that target being reduced to the permanent standard of 1.1% by 2030. However, ambition is not just limited to the growth of community solar in the state, but to the RPS initiative as well, as Governor Phil Murphy has stated a goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.

As Wood Mackenzie outlines, community solar has the potential to create exponential growth in New Jersey’s electric market. In that same report, the company showed a scenario where New Jersey could add 2.3-3.3 GW of community solar by 2030, which would represent over 4.5% of total electricity generation in the state.

The program was designed for flexibility, allowing for projects built on variety of sites like brownfields, warehouses, rooftops, and farms. The program will open to developers in March, and local planning boards should start receiving project proposals in the coming year.