N.J. utility ups solar loans to $248 million

State approves program to add 81 megawatts of solar power to its grid through PSE&G customers interested in helping the Garden State become a leader in solar.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read

New Jersey regulators on Tuesday approved a proposal from utility Public Service Electric and Gas to expand its solar loan program by $143 million and 51 megawatts.

The program expansion means a total of $248 million in loans, translating into an estimated 81 megawatts worth of solar systems available to interested homeowners, businesses, and municipalities across the state.

Public Service Electric and Gas already has a program to install 200,000 solar panels from Petra Solar on N.J. utility poles and street lamps. Petra Solar

Since Public Service Electric and Gas' (PSE&G's) first loan program for installing photovoltaic panels was approved in April 2008, about $105 million in loans, totaling 30 megawatts worth of solar systems, have been applied for by its customers, according to company statistics. While its seen as an expansion, the next round of funding is technically a completely new program approved by the N.J. Board of Public Utilities (BUP) with specific regulations.

The Solar Loan II Program will run on a first-come, first-served basis for the next two years, or until 51 megawatts in solar systems have been installed.

The loans should cover half the cost of a solar system installation, according to BUP estimates. They will be offered as 10-year loans for residential homeowners, and 15-year loans for commercial or municipal customers, which can be repaid in cash or via earned Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC). One SREC is earned for every megawatt hour of solar energy created, according to PSE&G. The BUP also set preliminary monetary rates for SREC credits.

"Initially, the SREC floor price for residential systems is $450; for nonresidential systems up to 150 kw the price is $410; and for systems larger than 150 kw up to 500 kw it is $380. The floor prices offered for SRECs for new loan applications will be reduced by about 3 to 6 percent every 6 months," according to a statement from the BUP.

For the other half of installation costs, the BUP is recommending solar system owners apply for New Jersey Clean Energy Program rebates and federal tax credits.

"There's no question that providing a source of stable, secure capital--especially in our tough economy--has helped boost the number of solar energy systems in New Jersey," Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G, said in a statement.

"We're pleased to do our part to make New Jersey a leader in solar energy installations, second only to California," he said.

LaRossa is justified in his assertion. While it can't compare to California, which has huge projects in the 550-megawatt range underway, New Jersey is a leading state for solar installations, as well as clean-tech projects in general.

The greater New York metropolitan area, which includes a large portion of N.J., was recently ranked No. 3 in the country for most clean-tech job activity in the U.S. by a recent report, with the solar sector leading the clean-tech job market overall. It was only lagging behind the greater metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Los Angelesin California, respectively. New Jersey was also ranked 7th by another recent report listing U.S. states doing the most to wean its residents off foreign oil.

In addition to its solar loan program, PSE&G was approved in July for a partnership with Petra Solar to install over 200,000 photovoltaic panels on N.J. utility poles and street lights to tie into the state's electrical grid. It was also approved to install 5 megawatts worth of solar equipment in New Jersey urban enterprise zones, and an another 10 megawatts to be installed on the properties of interested third parties.