Case for Bankrolling Clean Energy in New Jersey Gets Big Boost

Tom Johnson | October 30, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Study shows states across the nation investing millions more in renewable technologies

New Jersey isn’t the only state ramping up spending for developing cleaner electricity.

In 2011, more state-funded renewable projects—32,734—were installed than in any other single year, according to a study by the Clean Energy States Alliance, a national nonprofit organization reflecting the use of public funds.

Last year, states invested a total of $3.4 billion in promoting renewable-energy projects, up 18 percent from the prior year and more than double what was spent in public dollars in 2009, the study said. The commitment of public money leveraged an additional $12.5 billion in private investment, according to the report.

The study could bolster arguments by clean-energy advocates that New Jersey should continue to promote renewable energy through ratepayer subsidies, a course that has increasingly come under fire from business interests for inflating already steep energy bills in the state.

In New Jersey, the state is proposing to spend $339 million in next year’s clean-energy program, about half the $651 million proposed last December. The
cut is a result of the Legislature and Gov. Christie diverting money from the clean-energy fund to balance the state budget.

“Despite the economic climate, state clean energy funds have continued to demonstrate innovation, support energy technologies and advance clean energy markets,’’ said Mark Sinclair, executive director of the alliance. “The better news is that, after 13 years of data collection, we feel confident that these industry trends are here to stay.’’

One of the more interesting findings in the study was that states have taken advantage of solar-panel prices by cutting the incentive levels they offer to promote the technology.

Still, solar-energy systems were by far the most popular form of renewable energy to receive state backing, with 31,311 solar installations financed in the past year, according to the report. New Jersey has had more than 17,000 solar projects installed over the past decade, representing a generating capacity of more than 876 megawatts, according to the state Board of Public Utilities data.

Since 1998, the alliance study said, state clean-energy funds have helped develop 130,000 renewable-energy projects.

In recent years, most of the funding for renewable projects has shifted from large wind projects, according to the study. The funding trend shifted after 2008, when more state incentives began to go to solar photovoltaic projects, the study said.

“State clean energy funds are a major driver of renewable energy projects across the United States, funding the full range of renewable energy technologies, including wind, solar, biomass and hydro,’’ the study noted. All of those technologies have benefitted from state incentives in New Jersey.

The study said renewable-energy projects installed across the nation last year will generate 1.1 million megawatts of electricity each year, preventing the emission of 800 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is a source of global climate warming. That is the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road, according to the study.

In a trend likely to attract attention in New Jersey, state support for incentives to install solar-energy systems has dropped since 2007 from 35 percent to 17 percent, with the rest of the funding coming from other sources.

That finding may back up arguments by New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand, who has often asked when ratepayers will be able to stop subsidizing growth in the solar sector.

The study also found that states used federal stimulus funds to help finance clean-energy projects, a step also taken in New Jersey.