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Community Solar Program Takes Shape in New Jersey

Alongside the solar energy market expansion community solar is becoming more popular. The increasing affordability of renewable energy turned the model into one of the possibilities of going solar, even for those who normally wouldn’t be able to because of unsuitable roof space, the type of property they live in, or because they are renters of multifamily units or commercial spaces.

The increased access to solar energy through community solar also comes with reduced up-front costs, as it makes possible for more people to invest in solar together and reduces technical barriers to going solar. Subscribers can be residential, commercial or industrial and will receive a credit on their monthly utility bills equivalent to their share of the solar energy produced at a solar system that can be installed over parking lots, atop apartment communities and privately owned commercial and industrial properties, municipal landfills or brownfields. The only ‘rule’ is to have the community solar project located within the subscriber’s electric utility service territory.

Over the past decade, community solar has gained traction in multiple states. A few examples include Colorado, which at the end of 2019, had 72 completed projects with 81 megawatts of operational capacity, Massachusetts, which in the first quarter of 2020 had an operational capacity of 276 megawatts in 197 completed projects, and Minnesota, the state’s community solar program reached 274 completed projects with 680 megawatts of operational capacity. Also in the first quarter of 2020, New York’s community solar program rose to 190 completed projects with 261 megawatts of operational capacity.  

NEW JERSEY’S FIRST STEPS

In early 2019, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) has launched its first Community Solar Energy Pilot Program. The initiative is administered through NJBPU’s Clean Energy Program and, by the end of 2019, it had approved 45 applications to participate in a total of 252 applications that represent more than 650 megawatts of total capacity.

In mid-June, Duke Realty announced that four of its New Jersey industrial sites will host solar projects. Nearly one million square feet of its roof space will be covered in solar panels by Solar Landscape, a local developer of large commercial and industrial solar integrations, which will own and operate the solar projects.  

The installation represents 11 megawatts of the first 78MW of solar power awarded in one year by the NJBPU under its three-year Community Solar Energy Program, which represents roughly 29 percent of rooftop solar awarded in the program’s first year. This share will make Duke Realty the largest community solar project host in New Jersey once the installation will be complete, and the combined projects will deliver more than 250 million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity to the community over the next 20 years.

The Duke Realty–Solar Landscape partnership will have a major impact on local communities as 51 percent of the electricity produced by the projects will be sold to low- and moderate-income households, in addition to more than 9,000 metric tons of carbon emissions offset from the atmosphere.

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