Garden State law invites consumers to sell solar energy
As the sun shines across the Garden State, one beam slices down into Rockaway, New Jersey, striking a massive new solar panel installation. Neither prompted by federal stimulus dollars nor inspired by a nearby LEED-certified building, these panels are a pretty straightforward business investment.
The panels atop H&H Mack Sales, one of the largest truck dealerships in the state, are the result of a new incentive that just rolled out last month: selling solar power from individuals and businesses to energy corporations. According to New Jersey law, energy companies need solar energy to be a fixed portion of all the energy they create. Because of the somewhat cramped confines of New Jersey – the most densely populated state in the union – there aren’t many vast stretches of land to lay out solar panels. So New Jersey set up an auction system for energy-users across the state – from homeowners to business proprietors – to sell the energy they produce from solar panels to energy giants. And best of all, these homeowners and businesses then get to use that energy for free.
The president of H&H Mack Sales, Bill Horne, explained that the company decided to turn to solar power because of its environmental and financial benefits. “I carefully evaluated the significant revenue from [selling the solar energy at auction and] the elimination of up to 80% of my electric bill,” he said. Requiring energy corporations to buy solar power acts a direct subsidy on individuals buying solar panels.
Perhaps even greater than encouraging homeowners to go solar, this market incentivizes creating efficient,inexpensive solar panels: at a low enough cost, solar panels can pay for themselves. Take, for example, products like the Sunfish, a solar panel that’ll be reaching stores in mid-2011. The innovation here is scale: huge solar panels are expensive to buy and install, so they went small and efficient. These plug-in panels can be installed pretty easily in an hour and can be yours for just under $800. With the largest model (which sells for $4,000) you could be making almost $1,200 a year, at current prices, from energy companies in New Jersey. You can even sell the energy you’ll produce in the future – up to 15 years down the line.
This is just one of a huge number of experiments going on in solar energy across the U.S. Massachusetts is operating a similar market with a guaranteed lowest price of $300 per megawatt hour; New York offers income and sales tax exemptions; California offers rebates for every watt of energy produced. In fact, even beyond federal incentives there are systems in every state in the U.S. Here’s a helpful map. The laws themselves may not be able to eradicate climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels. But with the right incentives, the market may be able to innovative us towards a workable clean energy future.