ENVIRONMENT

BPU holds public hearings concerning NJ solar industry

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The second of three public hearings was directed by New Jersey board of Public Utilities to review the solar market in the state.

“We’ve developed so much solar in the state. We rank 4th in the country — number one in the PJM grid for development and 94 percent of all the solar that’s been developed during this administration and it is a very viable market,” said President of the Board of Utilities Richard Mroz.

Mroz says over the last decade, roughly $2 billion was invested into the solar market.

“That’s investment that comes from rate payers and the market is supported by their investments,” he said.

The director of New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, Stefanie Brand, says the goal was to get the industry going because at the time it cost more to build a solar project than it earned.

“The state committed to having customers as a whole subsidies the industry and give them a little extra money so that they could develop their projects,” said Brand.

Since that time, she says costs have dropped and the solar industry has become vibrant in the state. She says solar facilities should be able to build and earn profit on their own, and that’s why she thinks it’s time for subsidies to be phased out.

“People also want to see our wind industry get started, they want to see more conservation programs and things like that. We can’t spend so much on one thing solar and still have money left over to spend on all the other good things we want to do,” continued Brand.

But different stakeholders have different opinions on the topic. Take the Executive Director of New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition, Fred DeSANTI, who thinks it’s too soon to cut subsidies.

“We would love it to and the cost of solar panels have come down significantly. As we squeeze cost out of this, we continue to drive it down, but right now the technology is more expensive than can pay for itself,” he said.

The other point highlighted in these hearings has to do with pending legislation, to revise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, otherwise known as the RPS. The RPS is a set amount of solar that utilities have to buy as part of their portfolio. Again, it was designed to get the industry going when it first started.

“Now, there is a demand that is natural and doesn’t have to be created by a statute by the legislature,” said Brand.

 Some want to see it increased. Think of it as a requirement to meet a higher target since the current set RPS has been met. How that plays out on the floor may affect decisions on how the solar industry moves forward.

“The legislature has to engage and give signals, appropriate signals to the solar community in terms of what needs to be built. We’re looking for that, we’re looking for programs that are going to squeeze cost out. That’s important to us. You know that these subsidies are kept to a minimum and that we keep deploying on a right track for New Jersey,” said DeSANTI.

All of these concerns, comments and suggestions will go to the board — creating a dialogue for potential action or a call for additional legislation.