Nestled just outside of Trenton in an industrial zone near the Hamilton border stands one of the state's largest solar arrays at a manufacturing facility.
The 5,500 solar panels, built on the parking lot of Trane Inc.’s Residential HVAC & Supply Manufacturing facility, are expected to generate over 2.5 million kilowatt hours within the first year.
“The main goal is to meet our climate commitment,” said Jason Bingham, Trane's president of HVAC residential and supply. “It is truly about achieving a worthy goal.”
Ingersoll Rand PLC, which owns Trane, laid out those goals in 2014, Bingham said, which include having the company reduce its greenhouse-gas footprint by 35 percent by 2020.
Bingham likened it to the carbon footprint that would be reduced by “taking 7,600 vehicles off the road.”
“What we did is we put the solar panels essentially on stilts, and then it becomes this cover for the parking lot,” he said. “In the summer when it is hot, [our employees] now have cooler cars. They are also excited about the winter.”
Trane’s Mercer County facility employs 1,200 people, making it the fifth-largest employer in the county.
Bingham said the factory has taken other eco-friendly measures, such as reducing the amount of water used in its manufacturing.
“You basically look at total consumption and then you go after ‘where are we wasting it, where is water being consumed, can we reduce or get rid of that,’” Bingham said.
Trane received funding for its solar array project from the Public Service Electric and Gas Solar Loan Program, which covers over 50 percent of the costs to install a solar system. The loan is repaid with the solar renewable energy certificates the system generates. A single certificate is generated for every 1,000 kilowatt hours.
SRECs are a component of the Renewable Portfolio Standard program, which sets a certain percentage of the state’s energy to be derived from solar. Utilities purchase SRECs from solar producers to satisfy those benchmarks, and the credits can be traded.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which regulates the SREC program, plans to phase out the credits over the coming years as a broader part of the Clean Energy Act that Gov. Phil Murphy signed in May.
Under the law, the public utilities board will look at modifying the SREC program or dropping it altogether as it looks at how to bolster the state’s solar industry and wean it off fossil fuels.
Murphy’s goal for the state calls for New Jersey to be 100 percent reliant on clean and renewable energy by the year 2050 — 21 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2025.
For solar electricity, the bill calls for examining and revising the state’s existing solar energy programs by making long-term structural changes. Under the Clean Energy Act, the law would have to be phased out entirely by June 2021, or once solar electric power generators connected to the distribution system make up at least 5.1 percent of the kilowatt-hours sold by each electric supplier in New Jersey, whichever comes first.
A phase-out of the SREC that funded Trane’s solar panels does not entail a complete end to the program, but rather a hard look at the program’s appearance as the Murphy administration tries to reach the 2050 goal.
During September, the board’s New Jersey Energy Master Plan Committee held five stakeholder meetings to hash out the state’s energy master plan, due by June 2019. Each meeting addressed a different area the board thought to be essential to cover in the master plan.
Topics covered at the first three meetings were clean and renewable power; sustainable and resilient infrastructure; and clean and reliable transportation. Still to come are how to build a modern grid and develop a clean and reliable infrastructure.
The public utilities board has said that its community solar program will “shine a light on” the energy-generating capability of local towns and cities.
Under community solar, residents and businesses would install solar panels on their own roofs or over their parking lots, generating their own electricity or selling the surplus quantities to nearby utility companies.
The public utilities board has 210 days from when the Clean Energy Act was signed May 23 to adopt rules and regulations for the pilot program, and 36 months to develop the full community solar program.