Measures Chart Path for Microgrids, Smart Growth, Solar Panel Installation & Updated Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards
(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, L. Grace Spencer, John McKeon and Daniel Benson to promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability throughout New Jersey was approved on Monday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“Every day, people statewide depend on having safe, reliable energy for everything from lighting rooms to engaging in personal and professional communication to heating and cooling their homes,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic), is a sponsor of both bills. “By facilitating the efficient delivery of power to New Jersey residents, these bills will help advance our energy policy and keep the state running smoothly.”
The first bill (A-4180) would direct the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to establish a microgrid pilot program. The program would ensure that critical public and private facilities have the means to continue operating during a federally-declared disaster or state of emergency.
Eustace and Spencer note that because microgrids, small-scale electric grids connected to central power sources, can operate independent of the main grid by utilizing on-site power generation, they can be critical during storms or other emergencies.
“The decentralization of electric power proved itself to be an effective strategy during Hurricane Sandy, when on-site systems kept a number of communities up and running,” said Spencer, a sponsor of both bills. “This legislation is to allow New Jersey to use microgrid technology to prepare for the next disaster.”
Under the bill, the BPU may approve a maximum of three microgrid pilot program applications and will be limited to only municipalities. The board would determine rates and would use established sources of funding, including unused funds from the societal benefits charge, to create a grant program to fund the program.
The legislation would require the BPU to provide the governor and the legislature with an evaluation of the pilot program within two years of the bill’s effective date.
Another bill (A-4186) would establish a “Solar Roof Installation Warranty Program” within the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). The program would provide a source of indemnification to commercial, industrial and institutional building owners who wish to install solar panel systems on their building roofs but cannot obtain sufficient warranty coverage against any resulting roof damage.
“Solar energy is an abundant, environmentally-friendly way to meet the demand for power in New Jersey, and our state has been a proud leader on that front,” said McKeon. “By alleviating some of the concerns building owners may have about the liabilities associated with solar panels, this bill will encourage more entities to take advantage of this clean energy source.”
“The liabilities associated with solar panel installation prohibit many building owners from taking advantage of the benefits of solar energy,” said Benson (D- Mercer, Middlesex). “With this legislation, we remove barriers for economic growth and environmental gains by making it possible for more building owners to use a renewable energy source for their energy needs.”
Under the bill, societal benefits charge funds would provide an initial $2 million for the “Solar Roof Installation Warranty Fund.” The bill directs the BPU to make additional deposits of $500,000 per fiscal year thereafter until deposits to the fund reach a cumulative total of $5 million.
The fund, to be maintained in a trust account separate and apart from other funds, would provide sufficient money to pay claims by participating commercial, industrial and institutional building owners for damages to a roof due to solar panels that a warranty or insurance policy does not cover and pay the overall costs of administering the program. The maximum amount to be paid from the fund for a loss to a participant for a single building would be $50,000. The bill requires the NJEDA to investigate and determine the validity of each claim.
Both measures were released by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee on June 1. Each one will now be considered further by the Assembly Speaker.