Op-Ed: Environmentally responsible and economically savvy in 2020

The state Energy Master Plan extends alternative-energy opportunities to low- and middle-income communities. It’s a very smart move
Laureen M. Boles

Working, learning, and worshipping from home have forced many of us to turn our attention to the physical space we call “home.” Some of us have invested in dedicated workspaces to sustain our livelihoods or educate our children, while others have carved out spaces for recreation or relaxation.

But how many of us have considered the economic impact of our added time at home, or have invested in the environmental quality of our homes?

Without knowing that our work, play and pray spaces would eventually all be the same space, in 2019 I proposed that Gov. Phil Murphy prioritize access to state-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy in the low- and moderate-income communities of New Jersey:

“By prioritizing the deployment of clean technologies like solar and battery storage in frontline, low-income and environmental-justice communities first, New Jersey will take an important step toward resilience and unlock economic opportunity in communities that need it most. The Energy Master Plan must ensure that the right incentives are in place for frontline communities to benefit from New Jersey’s clean-energy goals.”

Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection responded with a state Energy Master Plan that mandates 100% clean energy by the year 2050, with a third of that energy resourced from the sun. According to the DEP, “Integrated Energy Plan modeling suggests the installation of 5.2 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics by 2025, 12.2 gigawatts by 2030, and 17.2 gigawatts by 2035.”

Thus, an additional 950 megawatts of solar capacity are needed annually, nearly triple the 320 megawatts New Jersey added annually over the past five years, according to the NJPACT Stakeholder Session, Balancing Resource Protection and Clean Energy Priorities.

The path forward is well illuminated, pun intended. Implementation of the New Jersey Energy Master Plan includes community solar-energy projects to deliver benefits to low- and moderate-income communities, which otherwise might not be able to participate in a clean-energy program.

The benefits are in the form of discounted electric bills, clean-energy jobs for the local workforce and partnerships between solar-energy developers and the nonprofit organizations that serve those communities. The partnership between the Ironbound Community Corp., a 46-year-old community service partner in the East Ward of Newark and Solar One Energy Systems is one example of the collaborations being developed to bring online the solar array at Doremus Avenue in Newark.

“In April 2020, the Ironbound Community Corporation’s Financial Opportunity Center had the pleasure of providing our constituents with Solar Panel Tech training offered by our partners Solar One,” according to Melanie Reyes, director of the Financial Opportunity Center, Ironbound Community Corp. “The participants were eager to learn and committed to putting in the work necessary to successfully master the training. Our partnership, along with the commitment and hard work of the participants, resulted in successful job placements with Solar Energy Systems,” she continued. “Our training-program participants are well on their way to a successful career in a growing industry.”

The Newark site will serve 400 solar customers by the end of 2020. Another 400 customers will be solar-energy subscribers in North Bergen, 300 in Secaucus and 200 in Jersey City. According to Adrian Varga at PowerMarket, the project developers, “Community solar is a new way to receive the financial benefits of clean energy without installing expensive solar panels on your property. Most everyone is eligible: homeowners, renters, small businesses, houses of worship and schools too. Your utility will still provide service to you, but the bill you receive from them will be lower due to your participation in the solar farm.”

To learn more about how to subscribe to the PowerMarket clean energy program, call 1-800-253-4333.