When New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie ran for office in 2009, he campaigned very aggressively on his belief in the value of renewable energy.
Yesterday, Christie backed up that belief by signing a bill into law that will help expand and stabilize New Jersey’s robust solar industry.
For Christie, expanding the solar industry was a fairly straightforward, sensible decision in a state with hundreds of thriving businesses in the sector. But in the national political context — at a time when the GOP has made it a top goal to reduce support for renewable energy — the decision was a bold move.
Why did Christie step up to protect solar? Because the industry has become an increasingly important part of New Jersey’s economy.
By putting in place strong state-level solar targets and establishing a trading platform for solar renewable energy certificates, New Jersey quickly jumped to become the second-largest solar market in the U.S. The state currently has more than 16,000 systems worth 800 megawatts of capacity installed around the state — generating more than 1 percent of electricity.
All that development has supported nearly 3,000 jobs and 500 businesses, according to a 2011 census from the Solar Foundation.
So why did the program need to be changed?
New Jersey has a tradeable certificate program for promoting solar. Under the state’s promotion law, energy suppliers must accumulate a certain number of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) — credits that represent 1,000 kilowatt-hours of solar electricity — to prove they’ve met the set targets. Energy suppliers can either generate the credits themselves by investing in solar projects or purchase them from customers. The price of the credits is based on supply and demand.
After implementing the “floating” credit market, the state’s industry quickly boomed. However, the frenzy of installation activity created an oversupply of SRECs, forcing prices sharply downward. The rapid price decline made it harder to finance new projects and pushed out the payback period for system owners who hadn’t secured contracts for their credits.
So the New Jersey legislature stepped in and created new rules that will hopefully stabilize prices. By changing the state’s solar targets from a fixed yearly number to a percentage of actual energy usage, there will be more price elasticity in the market.
Christie issued a statement yesterday on why he supported the changes:
“Since my time running for office, I made it clear that my Administration would be unrivaled in our aggressive support for the development of renewable sources of energy in New Jersey. Renewable energy not only helps meet our goals of increasing sustainability and protecting the environment, but can be an engine for economic growth and the creation of good-paying jobs for the people of our state.”
“The bill I am signing today furthers these goals and will help us remain a national leader in the solar energy industry as we continue to promote innovative approaches to solar development, like developing landfills and other unusable lands and transforming them into sources of usable clean energy, all while holding down costs for families and businesses.”
According to Christie’s office, New Jersey’s ratepayer advocate estimates that the new law will save ratepayers approximately $1.076 billion over the next 15 years compared to the old solar targets.
But this story is about far more than the technical details of how New Jersey tweaked its solar market. It’s a great story about a prominent Republican politician — a man loved by the Koch Brothers no less — who stepped up and supported the local solar industry after seeing the direct economic benefits created in his state.
Christie has set the standard for Mitt Romney, a man who was once a champion of renewable energy when governor of Massachusetts, but who has now devoted himself to the GOP’s climate-denying, anti-clean energy gospel — even with 64,000 jobs in the sector now in his home state.
We’ve been extraordinarily critical of Christie for pulling out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — a Northeast regional carbon dioxide program that has brought documented benefits to ratepayers and clean energy businesses in participating states.
But credit is due here. Kudos to Governor Christie for not blindly following the GOP’s anti-renewable energy platform and stepping up to support the solar industry.