New Jersey's largest electric utility wants to dramatically step up the number of ratepayer-supported solar projects it installs on landfills and brownfields.
Public Service Electric & Gas Co. asked state regulators Wednesday to allow it to spend $275 million to install 100 megawatts of solar panels, nearly tripling the capacity of its landfill and brownfield solar farms.
PSE&G's proposal is the latest edition of its seven-year-old Solar 4 All program, which initially aimed at installing thousands of solar panels atop its utility poles.
By focusing on installing solar panels on old dumps and industrial sites, the utility says, its proposal is aligned with the state's Energy Master Plan, which encourages the installation of solar on landfills and brownfields.
"We are uniquely suited to do these projects," said Courtney McCormick, the utility's vice president for renewables and energy solutions. "We have the capital, the expertise to do the permitting and challenges of doing this type of project."
The utility has lined up labor support for its proposal, which it said would create about 575 direct jobs in New Jersey during construction time. The projects would be installed from 2018 to 2021.
The proposal is likely to arouse some opposition when it goes before the Board of Public Utilities because PSE&G wants to recover the costs of the program through higher rates for its 2.2 million customers. It is seeking a rate of return of 9.75 percent on its investment.
"There's pretty much no risk here, and we're not sure the return should be that high," said Stefanie Brand, the director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, the state's ratepayer advocate.
The Rate Counsel opposed PSE&G's previous Solar 4 All proposals, arguing that the utility should be required to compete in the generation market like other power suppliers.
"At this point, generation is deregulated," Brand said. "They should take the risks, pay their own money, and then they would get to keep the return. That's what the other companies are doing."
Since 2009, PSE&G has installed 125 megawatts of grid-connected solar projects that use rooftops, parking lots, landfills, brownfields, and 174,000 utility poles. The utility said its landfill projects typically cost ratepayers about 40 percent less than the price of reimbursing residential solar producers for excess power they sell into the grid.
The utility most recently sought $729 million in funding in 2013 to develop 136 MW of solar capacity. It settled for a $247 million program to develop 45 MW after critics said the utility's proposal would flood the New Jersey market with solar power, reducing the value of solar renewable credits that provide revenue to green energy projects.
Lyle K. Rawlings, president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, said the market price for solar renewable credits is now stable and PSE&G's proposal is unlikely to undercut competitive producers.
"We're looking for the state to go to a full transition to renewable power over the long term, and utilities will play a strong role in helping to build that up," he said. .
The company has installed more than 150,000 solar panels on 170 acres of landfill and brownfield space.
PSE&G in February launched a 13-MW solar farm covering 53 acres of the L&D Landfill in Burlington County, its largest landfill project to date. It also built solar projects at the former Parklands Landfill in Bordentown and Kinsley Landfill in Deptford.