In one of the best indications that solar energy is ready for prime time, the New Jersey State Legislature approved A1084 and referred it to committee.
A1084, which would mandate solar panels in the design and construction of all new public school facilities, is currently before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which is waiting on technical review by the Legislative Council to insure that such legislation does not violate previous state statutes.
Sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora, (D-Mercer), Peter J. Barnes, III (D-Middlesex), and Albert Coutinho (D-Camden), the bill places the onus to insure the solar law before approving school construction on the New Jersey Commissioner of Education – a role filled by Bret Schundler until August 27, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dismissed him for a costly ($400 million) error on an education grant.
Gusciora says the mandate meshes nicely with $12.5 billion funded for schools in 2000 as a bond issue, of which $7.9 billion has been spent. In 2008, the Legislature expanded the program by $3.9 billion of additional borrowing – all funding which would help New Jersey maintain its No. 2 slot (after California) as the state with the most solar photovoltaic (PV) energy installed. New Jersey had 200 MW of installed capacity as of Oct. 1
The mandate will also help create jobs, Gusciora noted. Opponents like David W. Wolfe (R-Brick Township) say the law may not be applicable to all school districts given the persistent impact of the current recession on school districts nationwide. And groups like the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association indicate that they are willing to support the solar schools measure, but only as an “incentive-based approach rather than a mandate to meet our state’s school facilities’ needs.”
New Jersey’s school construction budget is one of the largest in the U.S., and spending some of the money on clean, renewable solar power seems like a smart bet even in a recessionary economy. Electricity prices are never going to go down, and may even rise sharply as government institutes some form of carbon emissions regulations (cap-and-trade, or tax-only) on pollutive, fossil-fuel electricity generation.