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August 21, 2023

New Jersey program that allows renters to use solar energy becomes permanent

More than 6,000 households have saved at least 15% on their utility bills by participating, state officials said

Environment Solar Power
Community Solar NJ Edwin J. Torres/N.J. Governor's Office/Flickr

New Jersey has made permanent its Community Solar Program, which allows renters and other residents to use community solar panels to save money on their utility bills. The image above shows the state's first community solar project, which was finished in 2021.

The New Jersey program that allows renters and other residents to connect to community solar panels to save money on their utility bills has been made permanent. 

The Community Solar Program has provided solar energy – and at least a 15% discount on utility costs – to more than 6,000 households since it began in 2018. The program aims to expand solar energy access to low- and moderate-income households. 

community solar project is a collection of solar panels whose output is divided among multiple households. These households receive credits on their utility bills for participating in the project, according to the New Jersey Clean Energy Program. The households are not directly connected to the solar panels, because they often are located down the road, across town or elsewhere in the state. 

Each project caps its energy capacity at five megawatts, which can power up to 1,500 houses. The solar panels in these projects typically are installed on rooftops, parking lots, brownfields or landfills. Each household pays a monthly fee to participate in the community solar project.

The Board of Public Utilities has approved 150 projects, totaling 243 megawatts of power, over the last five years. Twenty-nine of those projects, using 50 megawatts of power, have been fully constructed. Another 97 projects are expected to be completed within the next several months. 

"By building on the successes of our nation-leading Community Solar Program, we will continue to expand access among New Jersey families to the significant benefits of clean energy," said Gov. Phil Murphy. "For far too long, these benefits — both environmental and financial — have remained out of reach for many of our low- and moderate-income residents, including renters. Thanks to programs like these, which prioritize the equitable and inclusive adoption of clean energy, we will continue to ensure that no New Jerseyan, regardless of their zip code, is left behind in our pursuit of a clean energy future." 

The U.S. Department of Energy lists cost savings among the primary benefits of switching to solar energy. Other benefits include reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, and the ability to use solar energy when traditional power sources go out.

The state Board of Public Utilities requires at least 51% of a community solar project's participants to be low- or moderate-income households. All projects must guarantee at least a 15% discount on the participants' monthly energy bills. 

Renters, people who do not have control over their roofs, people living in multi-family properties or who cannot afford solar panels can check to see what projects are available in their zip codes using this searchable tool. Residents who are having issues with their community solar subscriptions can contact the Board of Public Utilities with their complaints

The Board of Public Utilities will open applications for new community solar projects in November and June. New projects will be included in all four of the state's major utility service territories and will be able to enroll about 30,000 households.

"At the heart of it, community solar is about unlocking access to clean energy for many residents, especially in low- to moderate-income communities and in urban areas where residential rooftop and ground mount solar are not possible," said Joseph L. Fiordaliso, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. "(This) action will help more New Jerseyans reap the benefits of our clean energy transition and help combat the devastating and worsening impacts of climate change." 

Earlier this year, New Jersey joined the U.S. Department of Energy on a new federal-state program that aims to make it easier for low-income households to take part in solar energy projects across the country. The goal of that program is to create a one-stop shop for households that already receive support with their utility bills through LIHEAP.