Profile: One of New Jersey’s Champions of Clean, Renewable Energy

Lyle Rawlings isn’t just pushing solar power, he’s pushing the state to adopt far more ambitious targets for electricity generated by renewable sources

lyle rawlings
Who he is: Lyle Rawlings, president and CEO of Advanced Solar Products, a solar company based in Flemington he founded in 1991.

Why he counts: Described as the “founding father of renewable-energy legislation in New Jersey’’ by the New York Times, Rawlings has been in the forefront of efforts to promote solar development and other clean-energy technologies in the state. He also is a cofounder and president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry trade group, and New Jersey For Renewable Energy and Efficiency.

Family: Married with two children, one of whom works with him at Advanced Solar. He lives in East Amwell.

Background: A graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in chemical engineering, Rawlings, 59, is the holder of three patents involving solar technology with “two more in the works.’’

What he’s up to these days: Rawlings is leading the effort to have New Jersey dramatically ramp up its reliance on renewable energy for the electricity used by consumers and businesses. A bill (S-2444) pending in the Legislature would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy by 2050, a big leap from the target of 22.5 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Is it doable? “Definitely,’’ he says. “Maybe not right now under this governor, but this is going to culminate in New Jersey passing this law, and sometime soon.’’ Nevertheless, it must overcome huge obstacles from some businesses and consumer advocates who fear it will boost what they view are already steep energy prices in the state. Rawlings counters that neighboring states are moving to adopt similar mandates, as are parts of Europe. “It’s a concept sweeping the world and the country,’’ he said.

What’s the state of New Jersey’s clean energy market: I’d have to say not good,’’ Rawlings said, pinning much of the blame on the state’s Solar Energy Renewable Certificate system, which pays owners of solar arrays for the electricity they produce, a model funded by utility ratepayers. As a result, consumers and businesses pay three to five times more for solar electricity than do customers in neighboring states, according to Rawlings. “We need a different system.’’

What gets him riled up: When critics talk about the cost of subsidizing solar energy, which they say has totaled approximately $5.2 billion to ratepayers. Rawlings argued those numbers fail to include many benefits of solar, such as the fact that the peak time when solar is delivered to customers is when electricity prices are highest. The costs also fail to include other benefits, including reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and curbing regional air pollution, he said.

Biggest accomplishment: Being instrumental in the creation of the state’s multibillion dollar solar market, which helped New Jersey achieve the distinction of having, at one time, the second highest number solar installations in the nation –behind only California. It is still ranked among the top 10 states.

What about the changes roiling the energy sector: “There are a lot of changes going on,’’ said Rawlings referring to increased reliance on renewable energy and distributed generation — locally produced power systems. “Between the two of them, they are revolutionizing the energy market. New Jersey needs to do much more to react to it,’’ he said. Among other things, the state’s utilities need to change, too, no longer basing their business model on how much energy they sell. “We need healthy utilities to get to this great energy future.’’