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Trade association files $500 million suit against the state

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An association of businesses invested in solar energy production has sued the state utility board for half a billion dollars.
An association of businesses invested in solar energy production has sued the state utility board for half a billion dollars. - (Thinkstock)

By Andrew George | Email | Twitter

A 16-count, $500 million lawsuit against the state and its Board of Public Utilities was filed last month by the New Jersey Solar Grid Supply Association claiming the state first encouraged and then blocked millions of dollars in industry investment through implementation of the Solar Act.

"The BPU unjustifiably stopped solar grid supply projects, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in economic investment by businesses that the state essentially recruited to pursue these types of renewable energy projects," NJSGSA president Jim Spano said in a statement. "As an additional consequence, the state has also denied New Jersey taxpayers cleaner, more affordable, energy and thousands of jobs."

BPU spokesman Greg Reinert said the matter is under review and declined to comment further on the pending litigation.

"We are reviewing the filing with our attorneys," Reinert said.

Filed in Burlington County Superior Court, the complaint's plaintiffs consist of the trade association as well as 10 of its member companies that develop solar grid supply projects in the state.

The plaintiffs claim in the suit that during 2008 to 2010, they were "aggressively courted, invited, incentivized and welcomed" into New Jersey to "develop, create and construct" solar grid supply projects. As examples, the suit lists favorable commercial zoning designations and the removal of limitations on project size in determining eligibility for some benefits.

In response to what they saw as encouragement, the plaintiffs claim they invested time and money in project interconnection rights, land deals, infrastructure, various fees and applications and a handful of other items. According to the suit, that added up to over $43 million in investments, which the plaintiffs claim "would have easily and reasonably foreseeably supported more than $58 million in development income and another $400 million in profits over time."

But by July of 2012, the suit claims, the state's implementation of the Solar Act without a grandfather clause subjected the businesses, which already had invested significant funds, to previously inexistent regulations and crippled the viability of their ongoing projects.

"Our member companies have done everything within our power to work with the BPU and follow the proper procedures for approval," Spano said. "However, when it became clear the BPU would not abide by the law and work with us to complete these projects, we banded together and reluctantly turned to the courts to help level the playing field."

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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