As the Environmental and Climate Justice Chair of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, I believe that the New Jersey Assembly companion bills A-3723 and S-2314 that were passed on April 12, 2018, are going to be revolutionary for all New Jersey residents.
We extend our appreciation to all the lawmakers who supported these bills that assure that all people across the spectrum of New Jersey, regardless of their race, creed, gender, national origin, ethnicity, or income, have access to solar energy. This also ensures sustainability for future growth and progress, without the possibility of any recoil. We would like to thank Gov. Phil Murphy, in advance, for signing these bills into law.
Finally, a legislation that helps to improve New Jersey’s environment and makes it a safer, healthier place to live.
In plain English
Our New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP wants to make sure that the public understands how much they will now be able to benefit from solar — using language that is not convoluted, but is clear and makes sense. Here are some of our thoughts on the bills.
First, these new bills, once signed into effect by Gov. Murphy, will make it so that if you live in an apartment building, own a small business, are lower-income, and so forth in New Jersey, you will be able to lease solar panels and have equal access to clean-energy ownership, as either individuals or together with a group of people, through a community solar program. As lower-income communities spend a disproportionate amount of their hard-earned income on utility bills compared to higher-income households, it is critical to implement legislation like these bills that can lower your electric bills and ensure consumption of clean energy with zero emissions.
Second, traditional sources of energy cause dangerous smog and air pollution which disproportionately impacts communities of color. We know firsthand from reports like the NAACP and Clean Air Task Force’s Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Facilities on African American Communities, that oil and gas companies build toxic facilities close to the properties of African-Americans and lower-income residents. This means that people living in these communities are suffering from high cancer rates, asthma rates, and other health problems from this type of dirty energy.
Solar energy is different. The sun provides energy for our bodies and nutrients to all life forms. In the same way, the sun is a healthy source of energy to power our homes, businesses, and communities. Although solar panels are manmade, the sun is what we all have inherited and what can give us healthy electricity, much like it gives us life. It is vitally important that we bring all people into the clean-energy movement regardless of race, creed, color, or economic status.
Leaving fossil fuels behind
Third, these laws ensure that the power companies begin to change their ways to equitably transition from toxic energy that pollutes New Jersey communities, to solar power, which is affordable and clean. With a Renewable Portfolio Standard of 50 percent by 2030, New Jersey will join the ranks of a few other leading states that are transitioning away from an economy based on fossil fuels.
The New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP supports community solar and other provisions in the bill that make solar energy accessible and affordable for all people. We will share information on this bill with our members on how they can take advantage of these new solar initiatives. As we applaud legislators for supporting these important bills, we will use our voices to continue holding legislators accountable and collectively engage in policy discussions. All legislation starts at the local level; therefore, we encourage our members to use their voices to help design the program components. The best way to ensure we all benefit from these bills to the fullest is to encourage New Jersey residents and neighbors to speak to their networks at their places of worship and community centers to get the word out about the power of solar energy.
The U.S. Constitution gives power to the people: we the people, for the people, by the people. We have the power to move mountains. We can create a more just and equitable clean-energy economy. Our voices can be heard as long as we stand united on the platform presented to us. It is imperative that our voices speak the veracity of our lives. Your voice is the most important gift that you have. Your voice makes a difference. Use it. Speak up. And let’s move forward on this together.