Bill Would Direct $50M Annually for Clean Energy to Low-Income Areas

Sen. Troy Singleton would tap funds from state clean-energy program to bring solar, energy efficiency and storage to environmental-justice communities
Credit: NJTV News
Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington)

With the aim of bolstering investment in clean energy in low-income areas, Sen. Troy Singleton is proposing New Jersey spend $50 million a year on solar projects, energy efficiency and other technologies in environmental-justice communities.

The legislation (S-2484), introduced last week by Singleton (D-Burlington), would tap the state’s clean-energy program to allocate 10% of its budget each year to spur investment and create job-training opportunities in those communities.

If the bill is enacted, it envisions helping a quarter-of-a-million low-income families benefit from solar power and energy efficiency, as well as by installing 400 megawatts of energy storage in those communities by 2030.

Ambitious plans for energy storage

The energy-storage provision is fairly ambitious. The state Energy Master Plan calls for 600 MW of storage by 2021, a target many in the energy sector already concede will not approach being achieved.

The legislation, coupled with a series of initiatives by the Murphy administration to steer other funding to environmental-justice communities, could reverse a long-standing trend in which low-income populations have failed to benefit from the boom in clean energy despite suffering some of the worst pollution in New Jersey.

“All New Jerseyans — regardless of their ZIP code or socioeconomic status — must have access to the many economic and environmental benefits that solar energy can provide,’’ Singleton said. “Our proposal establishing the Office of Clean Energy Equity will ensure that clean energy reaches every single corner of our state, especially those communities that have been traditionally underserved.’’

Under the bill, the state Department of Labor would provide grants and additional programs to develop solar energy curriculum and paid workforce training for at least 2,500 individuals from overburdened communities by 2025.

The bill also will require all new construction in low-income and environmental-justice communities be solar ready, reducing future costs for families and businesses when they want to move to alternative energy. That provision is likely to be controversial since not all homes are located somewhere that would let them benefit from solar.

Still, the Murphy administration awarded late last year 100% of a pilot solar-community project to 45 low-income areas where up to 77 MW of new solar projects will be built.

The administration also has directed a big chunk of funding from a settlement with Volkswagen — the upshot of its cheating on emissions testing for diesel vehicles — to low-income communities to purchase electric vehicles and zero-emission buses.

“New Jersey low-income families and environmental-justice communities have the most to gain from clean-energy savings, new local jobs and reduced fossil-fuel pollution, particularly given the health and financial devastation of COVID-19,’’ said Pari Kasotia, Mid-Atlantic director for Vote Solar.

Kim Gaddy, an environmental-justice organizer for Clean Water Action, agreed. “Making solar more available to low-income urban communities is an environmental-justice issue,’’ she said. “Newark residents are on the front lines of two crises, breathing dirtier air that Harvard research shows makes COVID-19 more deadly and what leading scientists call the climate emergency.’’