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Christie Promises to Sign Bill to Prop Up Solar Sector

Hotly debated for several months, legislation mandates how much electricity power suppliers must buy from solar systems.

Gov. Chris Christie said yesterday he plans to sign a bill aimed at propping up New Jersey’s solar sector, one of the few growing segments of the state’s economy.

In questions taken at an event in Manasquan, Christie touted his administration’s efforts to promote not only solar energy but also offshore wind projects.

“This week I will be signing a bill regarding solar energy that will give a boost to solar energy business,” the governor said in response to a question at the press conference.

Before they broke for the summer recess, the Legislature approved a measure (A-2966) that would speed up a mandate requiring how much of New Jersey’s electricity should come from solar systems.

The measure, pushed by the solar sector for many months, is aimed at calming turmoil in the industry, which has been created by a rapid build-out in solar systems that have crashed prices for the electricity the arrays produce.

The bill is designed to deal with that problem by ramping up the amount of solar electricity power suppliers must purchase. By doing so, it would deal with an oversupply of solar credits generated by systems in New Jersey, second only California.

The measure is backed by many in the solar sector as helping to avert a crash in the prices of solar credits, which have dropped from more than $600 last summer to the low $100-range this year.

Yet, many wonder whether the bill goes far enough.

“It’s a half measure,” said Lyle Rawlings, president of Advance Solar Products, a New Jersey solar firm. “What we built with this legislation is an aircraft with only one wing. It’s going to fly only temporarily.”

To deal with the oversupply situation, the bill would essentially double the amount of solar to be installed in New Jersey in the next few years, a prospect industry trade groups argue could increase electric bills by as much as $400 million. That increase would come about because utility customers ultimately bear the burden of paying off the solar credits.

Solar advocates dispute that assessment, saying consumers could save up to $1 billion because the measure dramatically scales back payments made by power suppliers if they cannot buy solar credits to comply with the state’s solar mandates.

In his comments, Christie also laid blame for the state’s slow movement to develop offshore wind projects on the U.S. Department of Interior, saying its environmental permitting process takes five to six years, before giving the states the green light to move forward.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, meanwhile, is scheduled to adopt rules that could begin the process of accepting applications for offshore wind developers at its monthly meeting tomorrow in Trenton.

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