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N.J. takes steps to double its solar power

State officials approved a plan they say will drastically increase New Jersey’s capacity for solar energy.

The Board of Public Utilities unanimously voted Wednesday to launch a new incentive program that aims to add 3,750 megawatts of solar energy by 2026, which the BPU says would double the state’s capacity.

“We are solidifying New Jersey as a magnet for green jobs and taking yet another step toward Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2050,” said BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso in a statement. “This tremendous action has taken many perspectives into consideration and ensures the solar industry will remain a vibrant part of our clean energy innovation economy while prioritizing long-term affordability for ratepayers.”

Like much of Murphy’s clean energy agenda — including electrifying New Jersey’s cars — this plan is ambitious. The BPU says the state has 143,555 solar installations that generate nearly 3,700 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1.5 million homes. To reach the goals laid out on Wednesday, those numbers would have to double in five years.

If the state succeeds, N.J. figures to generate about 10% of its total energy from the sun by 2026. Murphy has called for solar to comprise 34% of all the state’s energy by 2050, by which point the governor wants the state to run completely on clean energy.

The new plan, called the Successor Solar Incentive Program, replaces the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate program, which allowed owners of solar panels to claim energy credits that they could then sell. The state’s 2018 Clean Energy Act mandated the initial certificate program be phased out, though the new incentives also include sellable credits.

“The incentives in the New Jersey BPU’s new Successor Solar Incentive Program will boost affordable renewable energy in New Jersey and empower the state’s community solar projects to create the next-generation workforce necessary for New Jersey’s clean energy economy,” said Shaun Keegan, CEO of Asbury Park-based Solar Landscape, in a statement. “In addition, the increased incentives to support community solar adoption by low- and moderate-income households pairs the innovation in the renewable energy sector with New Jersey’s environmental justice goals.”

The new program will take effect Aug. 28. For solar installations that generate 5 megawatts or less of power, which includes most residential and commercial projects, the state will issue credits worth between $70 and $120 per megawatt hour of energy produced, with additional credits available to public buildings. That’s a substantial decrease from the old program’s credit of $220 per megawatt hour.

Solar projects larger than 5 megawatts will have a separate incentive program that is expected to launch next year, according to the BPU.

While solar power is a big piece of Murphy’s clean energy plan, the state has also been taking steps on wind power and electric vehicles. The state has approved three offshore wind farms in the past few years that, once completed, figure to generate about 3,700 megawatts.

Earlier this month, the state also restarted a rebate program for New Jersey drivers who buy electric vehicles.

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