N.J. joins feds on new solar program that could save low-income residents $175M a year

Published: Jul. 31, 2022

A new federal-state program making it easier to bring low-cost solar energy to low-income New Jersey households could save residents $175 million a year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

New Jersey was one of five states and the District of Columbia tapped to work on an online platform designed to make it easier for residents to sign up with a community solar project. The goal is to provide one-stop shopping for households who already receive aid for their utility bills under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

If the new platform works, all of those low-income households automatically could get lower-cost solar and cheaper electric bills when they sign up for LIHEAP, U.S. Energy Department officials said. They wouldn’t need to go through extra paperwork and verification programs. Energy officials estimated the savings would be at least 20%.

“As an adviser to the Department of Energy on the design and function of the platform, New Jersey will have the opportunity to ensure that the platform eliminates barriers to critical clean energy resources and benefits residents most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “It’s crucial collaborations like these that will help us provide every community member with ample opportunities to reap the benefits of a clean energy future.”

New Jersey already has a pilot program offering community solar to lower-income residents, which is why the state was tapped to join the new initiative.

“It was, ‘Hey, New Jersey, you were so far ahead of everyone in the field of solar and so many great things where equity was concerned,” said Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the state Board of Public Utilities.

So far, about 24,000 low- and moderate-income homeowners are receiving solar-created power under the program, said Taryn Boland, chief of staff for the utilities board. There are around 270,000 New Jerseyans currently receiving help under LIHEAP.

“New Jersey is a leader in community solar and especially those for low-income households,” said Nicole Steele, head of national community solar partnership, workforce and equitable access, for the Energy Department.

“That’s how they were identified as a potential state. Because they have an existing community solar program, they were a perfect candidate to participate in this pilot phase.”

In addition, increasing the demand for solar energy also could spark new investment in the industry and job training for new workers. The Energy Department said it would use $10 million from President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law for job training and partnerships in the solar industry.

And the money saved by using solar energy could be used to expand LIHEAP or take other actions to drive down utility bills, such as making homes more energy efficient, said Catherine Klinger, senior policy adviser to Murphy for climate energy and the environment.

Along with the wind farms now being developed in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey’s coast, the solar program is another way the state is investing in clean energy in response to climate change, Fiordaliso said.

“It has brought the opportunity to participate in this energy revolution that we’re going through to mitigate climate change,” he said. “The danger is real. We have to make sure we do everything possible to mitigate the effects of climate change. That’s the challenge of our day.”

Besides New Jersey and D.C., the others involved are Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, and New York.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-08-01 02:48:18 -0700