Op-Ed: Support Homegrown Solar Energy This Session

Anne Hoskins | February 9, 2018 | Opinion
Thousands of energy jobs in New Jersey hang in the balance

Anne Hoskins
Last week, Exelon announced plans to shutter Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant a full year in advance of the date mandated by law, putting jobs at risk. If state lawmakers don’t act soon, 7,000 additional in-state solar jobs could be in jeopardy, risking a stable source of local employment, along with clean, resilient energy — and importantly, the distributed energy backbone for New Jersey’s clean energy future. New Jersey pioneered homegrown solar energy; now is not the time to abandon that legacy. Lawmakers should support rooftop solar energy this legislative session by maintaining a stable solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market.

The New Jersey Legislature already voted last year to extend the SREC program for two years. This legislation would have protected jobs by providing support for New Jersey’s distributed solar industry, while giving a runway for regulators to develop a long-term policy framework that supports an affordable, clean-energy future. Despite overwhelming support in the Legislature and among the public, Gov. Chris Christie failed to sign this bill. Adding insult to injury, last month President Donald Trump imposed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels and modules, making the need for interim SREC legislation all the more urgent. Now it’s time to act and ensure New Jersey’s homegrown solar jobs engine continues to power the Garden State.

I have spent more than a decade working to offer consumers affordable and resilient power — first as a leader at PSEG, then as a utility regulator in Maryland, and now as chief policy officer for Sunrun. Sunrun has saved New Jerseyans close to $20 million on their electric bills to date and created hundreds of jobs installing solar on New Jersey homes.

We are at a turning point at which customers can now have a say in how energy is produced and used. Empowering consumers to go solar is the foundation for building a new energy reality.

Looking ahead, technology that enables consumers to generate their own resilient and clean power is affordable and already putting New Jerseyans to work. If New Jersey faces another devastating storm like Hurricane Sandy, residential rooftop solar systems paired with smart technology available today can now disconnect from the grid and keep essential appliances and services running. In other states, home battery storage allows consumers to generate, store, and share solar power with their neighbors and make the electric grid more resilient for the whole community. We should be working toward an energy future in which solar households can help prevent stranded centralized power stations and costly transmission and distribution systems. Consumers will save money and New Jerseyans will breathe easier.

So when people say, “solar is expensive,” we must ask, “compared to what?” When we consider the opportunity to diversify our system, replace aging infrastructure, and avoid billions of dollars of future transmission and distribution costs, the societal and health benefits of local distributed solar far outweigh the costs. A January 2017 Lawrence Berkeley National Lab report found that future utility capital expenditures on network upgrades and generation are expected to raise consumer electricity prices far more than distributed solar.

Adding to these benefits, rooftop solar creates high-quality jobs right here in New Jersey. New Jersey’s 7,000 solar workers are building a safer, stronger, and more affordable energy future. Jobs installing solar panels on rooftops from Newark to Cherry Hill can’t be automated or exported. For lawmakers looking to support clean energy, a healthier environment, and local economic growth, there could hardly be a clearer solution. There is no need for New Jersey to increase its reliance on out-of-state power that requires more subsidized transmission lines.

Extending the SREC program for two years requires a short-term investment, but goes a long way toward supporting a vibrant solar industry and paving the way for the next frontier of more distributed and less costly electricity.

Customers are clamoring to join the solar revolution. Gov. Phil Murphy and our legislative leaders should support New Jersey’s pioneering legacy and a distributed solar energy system that will keep the lights on and our economy humming. Thousands of us are working hard to bring solar energy to the state we love. Now we’re looking to our lawmakers for action.