Regulators in New Jersey have committed to expand the role that community solar will play in the state’s energy transition, approving the year 2 application and process for the state’s community solar energy pilot program.
The pilot, administered by New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program, provides access to solar energy through a subscription-based model. In its first year of the pilot, regulators awarded slightly more than the allocated 75 MW, with 78 MW across 45 projects being approved. While the pilot requires that at least 40% of all approved projects reserve at least 51% of their capacity to serve low- and middle-income households, that goal was shattered, with 100% of the approved renewable energy projects reserving at least 51% of their capacity for such customers.
In year two, the amount of available capacity will be doubled, with the 150 MW available carrying the same carve-out for low- and middle-income customers. The program has also been subject to some changes in this second year, as regulators look to reduce time and costs for developers looking to enroll customers in the program.
The changes mainly focus on easing enrollment — simplifying the rules used to verify which customers qualify as low- and moderate-income residents. If the new rules are approved, developers will no longer have to obtain potential subscribers’ two previous years of federal tax returns.
What makes a winning project
Developer applications are due February 5, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. ET., with more specific details regarding submittal coming when the application portal opens. Projects will be graded on a series of criteria, with projects that score the highest being the most likely to be selected.
The proposals are being graded on:
- Low- and moderate-income and environmental justice inclusion (25 points max.)
- Siting – with priority given to landfills, brownfields, and parking lots among others, and bonus points for site enhancements such as landscaping or pollination support, or locating in a redevelopment or opportunity zone (20 points max. plus bonus points)
- Community and environmental justice engagement (15 points max.)
- Product offering, with a preference for guaranteed customer savings of greater than 20% and flexible terms (15 points max.)
- Other benefits such as job training and co-benefits such as energy storage, EV charging, or energy efficiency (10 points max.)
- Geographic location within utility service territory and project maturity (each 5 points max.).
Projects that score less than 50 points will not be considered for development.
Alongside preparations for the second year of the pilot, regulators will also be convening this fall to develop a permanent community solar program for the state. While the pilot is ultimately expected to power an estimated 45,000 homes, instituting a permanent community solar program will be critical in the state’s pursuit of achieving 100% clean energy by 2050.
The state has also made a significant commitment to making sure that the energy transition is equitable and provides tangible benefits to residents of all incomes.
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