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TRENTON, November 20, 2019–The New Jersey School Boards Association has developed a sample resolution that local boards of education may wish to consider in addressing the subject of solar energy in the schools. The resolution urges the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to maintain strong incentives for solar energy projects.

The BPU is considering a proposal to oversee the development of solar renewable energy in the state. Comments must be received by 5 p.m., Nov. 27. Written comments should be mailed to Aida Camacho-Welch, Secretary, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, P.O. Box 350, Trenton, NJ 08625 or submitted electronically to solar.transitions@bpu.nj.gov.

On November 18, the Star-Ledger published an opinion article by Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director, urging the BPU to continue policies that provide incentives for solar energy projects in schools and support existing projects.

 

The state shouldn’t obstruct plans to power schools with solar energy, education group says

By Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod

For more than a decade, New Jersey has promoted and implemented energy policies that created a vibrant solar energy market. Our public schools have seized this opportunity and collectively developed more than 600 solar energy projects that save money for local taxpayers.

This great success is now at risk. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is working on a transition to a new approach, and if not carefully handled by the BPU, it will cause a significant constriction of New Jersey’s green economy efforts. Schools have been leaders in moving New Jersey’s renewable efforts forward, as solar energy at schools offers many benefits, all of which are at risk. These benefits include the following:

Solar energy reduces a school’s operating costs. Schools are large energy consumers, and solar is an effective way to reduce costs. Current policy promotes on-site solar projects. Now these incentives are at risk from a BPU proposal to penalize such projects by substantially reducing their value.

Energy savings from solar help our school districts manage and stabilize property taxes, an important element in making New Jersey affordable.

Solar Energy has become part of the education curriculum. Many schools with solar have incorporated the data from their projects into their science, technology, and mathematics curricula.

Solar at schools sends an important message to an entire community — that is, solar energy is here, and it works.

Public schools and their students — and taxpayers — need New Jersey to get this solar transition right, or these wide-ranging benefits are at risk of being lost. Several key elements must be in place during and after the solar market transition:

  • First, keep strong incentives for on-site, behind-the-meter solar projects. Schools have space for canopy, ground, and roof-mounted projects that can provide significant benefits to the school community and taxpayers.
  • Second, respect our commitments to existing solar projects. These projects represent an investment of more than $500 million in New Jersey’s schools. These projects will provide low-cost energy for 15 years or more. If New Jersey’s new solar policy pulls the financial rug out from under these legacy projects, school budgets will be hurt, jobs will be lost, taxpayers will be further burdened and future investments in solar will be discouraged. Consequentially, investors will not bring funding to new projects if they find them not viable financially or if they fear that New Jersey will reverse existing clean energy policy.
  • Finally, ratepayer impacts must be measured accurately. New Jersey law requires that renewable costs stay under annual cost caps. We support this cap requirement, which protects all ratepayers, but any measure of solar costs must also capture the wide-ranging benefits that solar energy provides to the grid. The payment of incentives to solar projects yields direct ratepayer benefits. The BPU has methods to capture these benefits, which it has used for energy efficiency and other clean energy programs. It would be inaccurate, unfair, and prejudicial against solar technology to not recognize these benefits when measuring solar cost impacts.

The New Jersey School Boards Association commissioned an economic study that accurately captured these costs and benefits. It clearly showed that staying within the cost caps and aggressively pursuing solar energy are not mutually exclusive. New Jersey can accelerate solar and renewable energy while, at the same time, remain under the cost caps.

For the benefit of public education and the taxpayers who support it, we call on Gov. Phil Murphy and the BPU to keep the ball rolling on policies that make our schools, our students, and our state the national leaders in sustainability and solar energy.

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Dr. Lawrence Feinsod is executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, a federation of the state’s local boards of education. NJSBA sponsors the Alliance for Competitive Energy Services, a cooperative energy pricing system for the state’s local school districts.