Solar energy bill clears Assembly committee

TRENTON – The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee released a major solar-energy initiative today that is at odds with the governor’s energy policy.

The bill was passed along party lines with Republicans voting no and Democrats yes.

The bill, A4279, among other things, requires the Board of Public Utilities to offer, as a minimum, the same level of incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs as those offered on Jan. 1, 2011; and provides all classes of ratepayers with access to solar renewable energy certificates.

In addition, it restores the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard to 30 percent by 2020. Gov. Christie cut the goal from 30 back to 22.5 percent when he unveiled his Energy Master Plan this summer.

Further, the bill would mandate that BPU establish a uniform statewide energy efficiency policy, which among other things would require utilities to develop plans that consider the ability of a supplier to meet demand through energy efficiency and conservation.

The value of the solar credits has been a problem lately, with their value falling partly due to the state’s success in having so many solar installations in place throughout the state.

Solar companies at public hearings have implored the state to maintain some form of subsidy to help keep the industry from total collapse.

This bill would require the BPU to set the value of the Solar Alternative Compliance Payment higher than the value of an SREC, or solar credit, in order to provide an incentive for power providers to comply with the SREC requirements. The Compliance Payment essentially is what a utility pays per megawatt hour of solar electricity that it cannot generate on its own. McKeon said the bill seeks to ensure that the Compliance Payment is no less than what the SREC value is.

Christie’s energy plan seeks to reduce the payment by 20 percent for 2016 and then by 2.5 percent annually after that.

The bill is sponsored by Assembly members John McKeon, (D-27), South Orange; Upendra Chivukula, (D-17), Somerset; and Dan Benson, (D-14), Hamilton Square.

McKeon said the Christie administration has been sending the wrong signal in terms of its energy policy and this bill addresses that.

“The cheapest energy is what we don’t use,’’ he said, and a clean energy program helps to accomplish that goal. New Jersey, depending on the source, is either first or second in the nation in terms of solar energy and that is because in-place economic incentives have been working, he said.

The Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy group had asked for the bill to be held so that its concerns regarding solar energy could be addressed.  The problem of credit oversupply pushing down SREC values from around $600 to about $180 might end up being exacerbated by this bill, the group argued.

Solar energy bill clears Assembly committee