Community solar projects — which let residents, organizations and businesses share in the benefits of a large local project instead of each having their own panels — are getting off to a fast start in South Jersey.

That’s good, since the installation of more than 100,000 solar arrays in the state received $2.8 billion in subsidies from ordinary residential customers and businesses — many who couldn’t afford to go solar themselves or didn’t have an appropriate location for a solar array. Community solar — 40% of which the state has committed to low- and middle-income households — is the one segment of the solar industry that still merits support by New Jersey.

Of the 78 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity production authorized by the state Board of Public Utilities for the first year of its three-year Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, projects in South Jersey were awarded 36% of that capacity.

A 2 MW project on top of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority landfill in Egg Harbor Township will sell discounted power to Pleasantville Housing Authority residents who subscribe to it.

In Woodbine, two approved projects producing 5 MW each will be sited at the borough landfill. They already have the support of the state Pinelands Commission and many other groups and entities.

Other South Jersey projects include two in Manchester Township, a 5 MW array on the township landfill and another 4.6 MWs on an Ocean County landfill; a 2.6 MW project at a former sand and gravel pit in Deptford; and two in Pennsauken, a 3 MW array on a rooftop and parking lot canopy and 0.8 MWs on another roof.

Getting more than a third of the benefit of a statewide program is about as good as it gets for South Jersey.

The BPU will accept another round of applications this year and the third and final round in 2021 in this pilot program. Other South Jersey municipalities and agencies should consider taking advantage while they can.

The BPU’s criteria for approving projects include “low- and moderate income and environmental justice” for subscribers; siting them on “landfills, brownfields, areas of historic fill, rooftops, parking lots and parking decks”; “community and environmental justice engagement”; and having “a majority of residential subscribers.”

Vineland, Millville, Bridgeton and Wildwood seem like they might be able to develop high-scoring applications for the next rounds of community solar awards.

The BPU hasn’t yet set the level of subsidies for community solar projects. But with solar installations already more affordable, any subsidy will be rewarding … and may not last. This should be a rare instance in which South Jersey’s lower per-person income than the rest of the state works to its advantage.

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