The sun is our most abundant source of energy. It’s sustainable, renewable and plentiful, and using it to heat our homes and businesses is a smart way to reduce the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. 

In New Jersey the solar industry continues to grow. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, New Jersey is ranked 8th in the U.S. for total installed solar capacity. 

Most of the solar installations in New Jersey have been on the rooftops of homeowners, and New Jersey residents who didn’t own a home couldn’t benefit. That’s now changed with the state’s commitment to community solar.

Recently, in his speech announcing New Jersey’s accelerated goal of 100% clean energy by 2035, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state’s community solar program is “opening doors to solar for the low- and moderate-income neighborhoods which had been overlooked for too long.”

JCP&L says this newly-connected solar farm in Mount Olive is the largest "landfill-to-solar" project in North America.

New Jersey’s pilot program for community solar projects — more than half of which is dedicated to serving low to moderate-income customers — brings the benefits of solar to families who don’t have control of their roof or when their house doesn’t face the right way or is covered by trees. Residents who live in towns like East Brunswick, Woodbridge and Elizabeth and hundreds of other New Jersey towns now have an opportunity to subscribe to community solar.

Instead of solar panels placed on individual homes, the panels are stationed on a large building within a community, and the energy produced serves subscribers in municipalities within the radius of the solar project.

Community solar is a win-win for all New Jerseyans, especially those who live in apartments, condominiums, and other shared spaces. Beneficiaries see a savings of about 15% — often more — off the portion of their energy bill that’s credited with community solar. This allows subscribers to benefit from lower-cost solar energy without having panels directly installed on their roof. 

By making a commitment to community solar, the state is also taking a stand on energy equity and environmental justice. Racial residential segregation has deprived many people of color from safe, secure, energy-efficient housing. Research indicates that Black and brown people are more likely to live in older, energy inefficient homes with structural deficiencies, outdated high energy usage appliances and inadequate electrical systems. These conditions can create energy insecurity, defined as “the inability to adequately meet household energy needs.” Savings from community solar can go a long way with helping residents who live in overburdened communities.

Joseph Fiordaliso, the President of the NJ Board of Public Utilities, lauded the program, saying it “represents one of the Murphy Administration’s greatest clean energy successes, especially with its focus on providing access to renewable energy and its benefits to low-income and environmental justice communities.”

In addition to the savings community solar brings, it can also provide good-paying, family-sustaining jobs for those who want to transition into new careers and the clean energy economy. These jobs do not require experience in the field, job training is provided, and equipment supplied, avoiding any unexpected costs for transitioning jobs.

Finally and maybe most important as we seek to transition away from dirty sources of energy, community solar has the potential to meet 30-40% of energy capacity needs in New Jersey by 2035. Community solar is clean, zero-emission energy, and it doesn’t pollute the air like coal, gas, oil, and other fossil fuels; it can help prevent 45,500+ metric tons of carbon emissions each year. And it has proven to be quick to build: community solar projects approved by the BPU in October 2021 are now providing benefits to their communities today, just over a year later.

Community solar may sound too good to be true, but it is true that community solar can lower your energy costs today if you have a project in your area and subscribe as a beneficiary.  With expansion now it is a program that will build a stronger, more sustainable future for the residents of New Jersey, especially those who live in overburdened communities.

To learn more about community solar and find a project near your home so you can save money today, visit New Jersey Community Solar Project Finder › About Community Solar.

Ed Potosnak is the executive director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to elect environmental champions, hold public officials accountable, and support laws which protect our environment and improve the quality of people’s lives.