The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities on March 29 said that it has approved the application process for year one of the state’s new three-year Community Solar Energy Pilot Program.
The board approved the pilot program rules in January, according to a Jan. 17 statement.
As noted in the board’s March 29 order, the Clean Energy Act was signed into law in May 2018, directing the board to adopt rules and regulations establishing a pilot program within 210 days that would enable utility customers to participate in a solar energy project that may be remotely located from their properties and receive a credit on their utility bills for their participation in the community solar project.
Community solar will therefore enable access to local clean energy for utility customers currently unable to place solar generation directly on their own properties, the order said. The board is particularly interested in ensuring that low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers are able to access community solar, and that community solar development is pursued without materially compromising the preservation of open space or protected lands in New Jersey, the order noted.
In its March 29 statement, the board noted that the pilot program will earmark 40% of the overall program capacity for low- and moderate-income projects; the pilot program has an annual capacity limit of 75 MW for the first year, and at least 75 MW for the second and third years.
The order noted that the pilot program will provide necessary experience and lay the groundwork for the development and implementation of a full-scale Community Solar Energy Program within 36 months, in conformance with the Clean Energy Act.
A draft application form for the program was published in November 2018, along with drafts of the community solar subscriber organization registration form and the community solar subscriber disclosure form. The order added that with strong support for the proposed rules and no substantive changes, the board adopted the Community Solar Energy Pilot Program in January; the adopted rules were filed with the Office of Administrative Law and published in the New Jersey Register in February.
During stakeholder meetings, board staff requested comments on potential measures to ensure an effective and streamlined interconnection process for community solar projects. The order added that board staff met with the electric distribution companies (EDCs) to further discuss interconnection-related issues. Board staff also reviewed comments received from such community solar stakeholders as trade organizations, developers, PJM Interconnection, and the EDCs on interconnection issues.
After reviewing the stakeholder feedback from community solar trade organizations, developers, and the EDCs, board staff recommends that community solar projects approved by the board for participation in the pilot program apply for interconnection through the EDCs, under provisions set forth at N.J.A.C. 14:8-5, the order said. That will enable the pilot program to proceed under established interconnection standards and therefore provide experiences and lessons regarding the interconnection of community solar projects in New Jersey to help inform the development of the full-scale Community Solar Energy Program, the order said.
The board directs the EDCs to apply the interconnection standards set forth in N.J.A.C. 14:8-5 to all community solar projects approved by the board for participation in the pilot program, the order said, adding that the EDCs are directed to modify their interconnection application forms to allow for an applicant to identify a project as being a community solar project.
The order applies only to interconnection sought by projects that are approved by the board for participation in the Community Solar Energy Pilot Program. The order added that the issue of interconnection of community solar projects will be reassessed in the development of rules and regulations for the full Community Solar Program.
As noted in the Community Solar Energy Pilot Program application form, the form is valid only for “Program Year 1, Application Period 1,” that is, from April 9 to Sept. 9.
Minimum qualification requirements include that the proposed community solar project must be located in the electric service territory of an EDC in New Jersey; existing solar projects may not apply to requalify as a community solar project; and the board will not consider applications for EDCs to develop, own, or operate community solar projects.