Encouraging NJ solar consumers through municipal-level nudging
I’m often asked what will have the most impact on slowing climate change. Using less energy and generating new clean energy are the two meaningful ways to make progress. And in New Jersey, building on a strong base of public incentives, the adoption of solar power is a great way to go.
Sunlight is a one hundred percent clean and renewable source of energy, and solar is considered one of the purest forms and fastest-growing renewable energy alternatives in the country. But the solar market can represent a noisy, stressful, confusing and demoralizing shopping experience for consumers
Finding a contractor to fix a leaky faucet can be a challenge. Finding a contractor to install a still evolving solar technology, with a confusing array of incentives and financing, has become a major obstacle to adoption of solar energy. In fact, as the cost of solar panels has decreased, the soft costs associated with installing new solar systems has increased. Soft costs (meaning everything but the cost of the actual materials and labor, such as the cost of finding willing customers, acquiring financing and getting permits) have risen to the point where they constitute 50 percent or more of the total costs. This has become a major barrier to the spread of solar. Sustainable Jersey has just launched a new program to overcome this barrier that provides a simple, cost effective way for municipalities to engage homeowners and small businesses in adopting solar.
The Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge takes advantage of a new online solar marketplace developed by the firm EnergySage with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy. The EnergySage web-based interface offers consumers online comparison-shopping, providing an experience similar to buying an auto online. Because the online solar marketplace is open to all solar vendors who meet the EnergySage vetting criteria, consumers have access to multiple high quality contractors.
10 Municipalities will be Selected for the Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge
Applications to participate in the Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge are now being accepted; the deadline is August 26.
Municipalities will be selected based on their capacity to conduct a strong solar outreach campaign, in addition to other qualifications. The ten towns selected to participate will be featured on the Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge website which will track the number of solar installation contracts that have been executed by local homeowners and businesses through the online marketplace.
The program will run from October 2016 through May 2017. The community with the highest number of signed contracts for solar installations by the conclusion of the program (based proportionally on number of households and businesses in each community) will win a $10,000 award that can be used for an energy related project in their community.
What are the benefits to municipalities participating in the Solar Challenge?
In addition to the satisfaction of knowing the community did something to combat climate change while making it easier for members of the community to get solar power, participating communities receive:
- A $3,000 grant and technical support to set up a local Solar Challenge
- A custom online solar marketplace dedicated to each community and its local program
- Pre-designed customizable marketing materials (email templates, brochures)
- Opportunity to earn Sustainable Jersey points toward certification
- Eligibility to win a $10,000 award for the local Solar Challenge campaign that achieves the highest number of solar contracts.
Woodbridge Township Solar Challenge
Solar Challenge pilot programs have started this summer to prepare for the launch of the official fall program. John McCormac, the mayor of Woodbridge Township said, “We’re proud that Woodbridge Township is an energy leader. There are over thirty public buildings with solar-panels which include schools, fire departments and municipal buildings and we have implemented a successful residential home energy audit program. We see the Solar Challenge as a natural progression for reducing energy use in the community and look forward to promoting solar to our residents and small businesses.” With a population of over 100,000, Woodbridge Township is a great launching place for the program and the township has a strong commitment to sustainability. Woodbridge Township has received the Sustainable Jersey Sustainable Champion award six times for achieving the most certification points and has been certified at the silver-level certification for six years.
In the first Woodbridge Township planning meeting for the Solar Challenge, participants included municipal staff, a representative of the town council and Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and a financial institution. Mayor McCormac went on to say, “Our residents and small businesses will be able to comparison shop for competitive quotes from pre-screened installers and financiers. The Solar Challenge program raises the curtain on the process of vetting solar options so that people will not feel overwhelmed. It will make the process transparent, easy and affordable.”
The Solar Challenge pilot programs and the grants to be distributed to the ten selected municipalities are funded by the Gardinier Environmental Fund. Gardinier Environmental Fund President Gene Wentzel said, “The Gardinier Environmental Fund is committed to conserving the earth’s energy resources and enhancing renewable energy measures. We are proud to stand alongside Sustainable Jersey, and to continue to fund worthy projects that support our mutual goals in New Jersey.” To date, Gardinier Environmental Fund has provided $585,000 to the Sustainable Jersey Small Grants program.
New Jersey has one of the strongest solar markets in the country. Solar power is more economically viable than ever before, so let’s tip the scales and keep the momentum going. I hope you will encourage your municipality to apply for the Solar Challenge and then use the program to shop for solar in the fall.
Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge Application Deadline for Municipalities: Friday, August 26, 2016
Randall Solomon has 20 years of experience working in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. He is one of the principals that founded and directs the Sustainable Jersey Certification program and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog.
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