Op-Ed: Urging Speaker Coughlin, Assembly to pass vital clean-energy measure

Deployment of solar energy is key to creating a resilient and equitable state. Passing the Clean Energy Equity Act would help
Kim Gaddy (left) and Leslie Elder

For many New Jerseyans, nearly 10% of their income goes to their energy costs.

Now, a recent New Jersey government report shows the coronavirus pandemic halted the “longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history,” forcing many people to look for ways to cut down on their living costs. This report piggybacks on earlier reports on the pandemic that found COVID-19 is more deadly in areas like Newark, Jersey City and Camden due to historically higher levels of pollution.

In April, a month after states began shutting down, more than 750,000 New Jerseyans lost their jobs — many of these Black and Latinx. Similarly, the virus hit people of color and low-income communities with few public resources harder. This highlights the disproportionate impact the pandemic has financially, and in public health metrics, on communities of color. Historically these communities are most at risk for these social and environmental injustices; for instance, multiple studies show that these communities experience higher levels of air pollution.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer) that has already passed the state Senate seeks to address these environmental, financial and public health inequities. Called the Clean Energy Equity Act, it aims to address the pandemic-induced public health and economic crises, in addition to the climate crisis we currently face.

New Jersey has already taken important steps toward deploying solar energy, but this bill is the next step to make sure the state’s most vulnerable communities also benefit from access to clean energy.

What this measure would do

Here’s how it would work: The bill would invest in community solar for customers who rent or have other financial and physical barriers to participating in the green economy, by enabling them to subscribe to a solar facility shared by other community members. It also would invest in rooftop solar, allowing customers to own their own generation systems. This addition of solar, along with storage and existing energy-efficiency efforts, would help to reduce the energy burden of 250,000 low-income households, or 35% of low-income households, by 2030.

The bill (S-2484/A-4185) would help to deploy local solar across the state, including rooftop and community solar, and 400 megawatts of storage in overburdened communities by 2030. It would legislatively codify the Office of Clean Energy Equity — which has already cleared the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities — to help vulnerable communities access clean energy.

Deploying all this local solar and storage would help create over 2 million jobs across the country. The Clean Energy Equity Act would provide training to approximately 2,500 individuals from overburdened communities by 2025, setting the stage for economic opportunities for them for years to come.

After navigating a pandemic for the better part of the past year, we all understand the importance of building resilient, healthy communities and of addressing the trifecta of the economic and public health fallout from the pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis.

The New Jersey General Assembly can address all three by passing this bill to ensure all New Jerseyans have equal access to clean energy and jobs.

We are calling on Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee and the Assembly to pass this bill to bring clean energy equity and jobs to New Jersey.