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 eighth 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.”

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 places 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 of 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that Black and brown people are more likely to live in older, energy-inefficient homes with structural deficiencies, outdated high-energy-usage appliances and inadequate electrical systems.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 New Jersey 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 provide well-paying, family-sustaining jobs for those who want to move into new careers in the clean energy economy. These jobs do not require experience in the field, with job training provided and equipment supplied, avoiding any unexpected costs for changing 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% to 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 more than 45,500 metric tons of carbon emissions each year. And it has proved 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