This past weekend, my family and I took a quick trip to New Jersey for my cousin’s wedding. In our travels around the state, we saw hundreds of roadside utility poles outfitted with solar panels, something I’ve seen nowhere else.
It turns out that the panels are part of an initiative by the utility, PSE&G, to install 40 megawatts of solar panels on utility poles across the state – 200,000 of them in all.
This is the kind of project that illustrates how different – and how exciting – distributed renewable energy can be. In this case, New Jersey receives the benefits of a small peaking power plant without having to use a single square inch of land or create any additional air pollution – very important given New Jersey’s status as the nation’s most densely populated state and its historically dirty air. The panels are being installed quickly – each one takes about 30 minutes – and they will continue to generate power for years to come, without adding to the Garden State’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The streetside solar effort is new, and is therefore virtually certain to have some bugs. But the idea is a smart solution that is well-suited to New Jersey’s specific energy challenges.
Ingenious, locally appropriate energy solutions are the hallmark of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the 10-state cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions in the Northeast that has generated millions of dollars in investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy in the region. Our report from earlier this year, A Program that Works, documented how RGGI is enabling each of the Northeastern states taking part to address their most significant energy challenges. In New Jersey, that has included support for large-scale renewable energy projects, though not specifically the solar-on-utility poles effort.
Now, a new study by the Boston-based Analysis Group has demonstrated that the clean energy investments made in the first three years of the RGGI program will yield significant and long-lasting economic benefits. The report found that the 10 RGGI states will experience $1.6 billion in net economic value added as a result of the program, with consumers ultimately saving $1.3 billion on their energy bills as a result of clean energy investments made thus far.
We haven’t seen solar panels on our light poles in Boston, yet, but last fall did bring the installation of new, energy-efficient LED street lights – a different, but potentially equally effective way to curb our dependence on fossil fuels. Tapping the Northeast’s potential for clean energy will likely happen one block, one house, one business, and one utility pole at a time. Programs like RGGI play a critical role in making those on-the-ground changes a reality.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.