Fine Print: A Bill That Could Keep the Solar Sector Thriving in Garden State

According to its advocates, ‘net metering’ is the key to making use of the tens of thousands of solar arrays deployed across New Jersey

small solar array
What it is: The Legislature is moving a bill with mostly bipartisan support to allow the state to increase development of solar energy systems. Proponents say it will encourage increased investment in the solar industry, particularly for residential and small-business projects.

What it does: The legislation eliminates a restriction that prevents solar systems from earning dollars from the electricity they produce but do not need, which ends up being shunted onto the power grid. Without such a system, dubbed “net metering,” the economics of smaller residential and business solar arrays would not work, according to advocates.

Why it is important for New Jersey: The state has aggressive goals to increase the amount of electricity produced from renewable sources, such as solar. It will never meet those targets if solar power is not a big part of that effort. New Jersey has more than 36,000 solar systems installed statewide, most of them on residential homes.

Why some people don’t like it: At this point, solar energy is still more costly than electricity produced using traditional means. Utility customers subsidize solar projects through surcharges on their electric and gas bills, which can be steep for businesses that use a large amount of energy.

What it doesn’t do: Lower energy costs in New Jersey, which has some the highest rates in the country, a problem that affects residents, small businesses, and large manufacturers. The Christie administration has made reducing those costs a top priority of its Energy Master Plan.

Why some people like it: Not only will people receive incentives to put solar on their homes and businesses, but also the increased payment will help them line up financing for their projects, according to advocates.

What happens next: Most likely the bill will be approved by the Assembly and sent to Gov. Chris Christie for consideration. The legislation easily cleared the Senate earlier this year in a 36-1 vote. Christie will probably sign the measure.