The state of New Jersey, my adopted home, is known for a lot of things: bad reality TV shows, high taxes and most EPA Superfund sites per square mile, to name a few.
However, New Jersey also has an outstanding record in the development of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity, the fastest growing alternative energy source in the U.S. – and most people don’t know about it. Today, despite being such a small state, New Jersey has more solar power generating capacity than any other state besides California.
In 1999, New Jersey’s state legislature passed a bill calling for a Renewable Portfolio Standard. Since then, largely through the work of electrical engineer-turned politician Upendra Chivukula and other state legislators, the laws have been strengthened and created the market-based solar energy production incentive known as SREC’s in 2004-2005. SREC’s are now being used in at least seven other states to boost solar development. However, New Jersey still maintains the most attractive market for deployment of solar energy in the country because of the ambitious RPS and commands the highest SREC prices in the country.
It’s estimated that over 3,000 jobs have been created in the state by the solar industry – and job growth will be 27% this year. There are now more solar jobs in New Jersey than in traditional power generation.
With a sputtering economy and high unemployment, it would seem that the continued expansion of the solar industry in New Jersey is not only good environmentally, but also critical to the economic recovery.
Unfortunately, some uncertainty has entered the marketplace because our current governor is in the process of “revisiting” the state’s Energy Master Plan. This document lays out the strategy for providing energy in the state over the next two decades, including the RPS mandate, and is undoubtedly what caused many entrepreneurs to enter the solar business, as well as many customers to invest in solar power systems. Any significant reductions in the RPS would create disarray in the marketplace and certainly undo the momentum in the industry.
Governor Christie, who took office only a year ago, is expected to announce his proposed revisions to the Energy Master Plan soon. It’ll be interesting to see if he continues the New Jersey legacy of leading the way in fostering solar power or reverses course and lets another state take the mantle.
I certainly hope that for the sake of our environment and our economy, we don’t reverse course and lose the momentum we have built up. Nothing kills a market like uncertainty and instability. If we can stay the course and show ratepayers and solar businesses the state is serious about creating a stable market, we’ll be able to retain our lead. Let’s hope the Governor does the right thing.