The solar industry is thriving in New Jersey, with hundreds of firms, many of them installing solar systems in homes and businesses. In fact, there's so much activity that the state is second behind only California in the number of solar installations.
But the state also is hoping to attract manufacturing jobs to local factories as a way to create the blue-collar, middle-class jobs that will help drive a new green economy. In an attempt to make that happen, the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee yesterday approved a bill that would make it more attractive for solar businesses to buy equipment made in New Jersey.
The bill (A-2042) would give firms that buy solar panels manufactured in the state a slightly easier way to accrue solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). Lawmakers believe this would make manufacturers who sell panels more attractive to the companies that install them
"It’s just another attempt to help create jobs and to increase the use of renewable energy in the state," said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer), the sponsor of the bill. He said his bill would help bring new manufacturing facilities back to New Jersey, including the contaminated brownfield factories, that now lie idle.
Under the bill, manufacturers that sell solar panels in the state would generate solar renewable energy certificates after their systems generate 850 kilowatts of electricity, instead of the 1,000 kilowatts normally required.
This is yet another subsidy bestowed upon the solar sector, which has created more than 3,000 jobs in New Jersey, but one that is raising concerns among industry leaders and those who advocate a strong push toward renewable sources of energy in the state.
Jeff Tittle, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club and one of the strongest advocates of promoting solar in the state, opposed the bill in the committee, saying it could undermine the state’s efforts to develop solar power by interfering with the free-market system set up by the state to encourage solar installations.
"Once the legislature starts to interfere with the free market system, it just won’t stop," Tittel said. "If we start adding things to it, it will create a real mess that will undermine renewable energy sources."
Terry Sobolweski, business development manager of SunPower, a solar firm that has installed 90 megawatts of solar systems in New Jersey, also expressed concerns about the bill, arguing the current program has proven very effective in promoting solar in the state.
If the bill was approved, Sobolweski said, it would deny customers in New Jersey the best and lowest-priced solar products available in the free market. He also said it would complicate the trading of solar renewable energy certificates and possibly be a violation of interstate commerce laws.
But DeAngelo defended the bill, saying the state has a lot of contaminated brownfields that could be put to better use. “There are companies that are looking to come to Mercer County because New Jersey is so solar friendly," he said.