LINDEN, NJ — Construction of a community solar plant has begun on what used to be the Linden landfill at 1543 Lower Road in Linden. Geared toward encouraging communities to go green, such solar farms generate power and supply clean energy to a community’s electricity grid. This one will benefit customers from Linden and adjacent communities who participate, the city of Linden, and Navisun, a Massachusetts-based company that meets long-term clean energy supply needs.
According to Navisun, the Linden Hawk Rise Solar Project is one of more than 25 community solar projects under development or already in production in New Jersey. Navisun consultant Carl Engelbourg detailed how the Linden Hawk Rise Solar Project came to be.
“A couple years ago, the state of New Jersey put out a pilot program for community solar, and this project is part of the Year 1 Community Solar Pilot Program that the Board of Public Utilities is administering,” Engelbourg said on Wednesday, July 7. “They awarded roughly 75 megawatts of projects, and this project is about 4.5 megawatts. So this project was built on the former Linden landfill, and Navisun is in the business of owning, acquiring and operating solar farms. That’s what we do, and a lot of what we do is community solar farms. That’s how the project came to be.
“We acquired it from a company that was a sister company to us, called CS Energy,” he continued. “They were the ones who originally had put in the application, and they were the developer on it, and we came in during the early mid-stage and worked on the construction and now are in the process of finalizing it, in terms of the interconnection to the utility and also working to get the project subscribed with residents.”
According to its webpage, Navisun, which was founded in 2017, codevelops, acquires, constructs, finances, owns and operates distributed and small utility-scale solar and storage projects throughout the United States in the 1- to 30-megawatt range. The company is currently active in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Texas, with plans to expand to other states.
Engelbourg said these plans take a long period of time and cost millions of dollars to construct.
The community solar plant in Linden, for example, “goes back several years,” he said. “These things take time where you have to get permits, do development — it was a landfill, so that complicates things, because of the environmental regulations that you have to make sure that are in place before you start construction. We started the actual construction of putting up the panels last October or so, but the plans were well in place long before that.
“Community solar is one of the cornerstones of our business. It’s something that we do a lot of in terms of our projects, so we like community solar and there’s a lot of opportunity there and we like that we help out local residents and local businesses with clean, renewable energy at a discount,” Engelbourg continued. “It makes sense, and what we do is, we adhere to whatever state we’re working in, in this case New Jersey. We adhere to the rules and Linden came about because the opportunity came to get into (New Jersey’s) Year 1 pilot program through this partner developer that we work with, who had developed the project originally.
“So, we’re very excited to be able to participate in that, and we’re looking to do more projects. Year 2 awards are going to be announced in the next month or two, and they’re doubling the size of the program for Year 2, so we’re fully expecting to have additional projects in the coming months,” he added.
According to Engelbourg, legislators passed a law saying New Jersey is required to enact a three-year pilot program, which could be permanent sooner than that, but, for right now, it’s slated for Year 1 and bids are in for Year 2, which will be 150 megawatts. He said the nice thing about New Jersey is it has a particular emphasis on catering to low- and moderate-income, or LMI, customers.
EngelBourg said developers submit applications for projects, which are reviewed by the Board of Public Utilities, and winners are selected based on criteria including points awarded based on environmental justice, LMI inclusion and catering to the local community. The BPU will select approximately 150 megawatts out of 800 megawatts’ worth of applications received for Year 2.
The Linden Hawk Rise Solar Project, he explained, will benefit Linden and adjacent municipalities — Elizabeth, Carteret, Rahway, Woodbridge, Cranford, Clark and Roselle — through financial savings and reduced carbon emissions.
“In the case of the Linden Hawk Rise Solar Project, at least 51 percent of the capacity of the project needs to go to LMI residents,” Engelbourg said. “We are planning to do more than 51 percent, but by the program rules, we need to have at least 51 percent go to LMI customers. Linden was part of Year 1 and the developer was CS Energy, which submitted the application and won the award. We acquired it from CS Energy several months later and did the construction.
“To be eligible to subscribe to the project, you need to either be a resident of Linden or an adjacent municipality, meaning one that geographically touches Linden,” he continued. “The residents benefit primarily by saving money. The way the program works is, the solar facility puts energy into the PSE&G grid. The customer gets credits on their utility bill for the energy that the facility produced — it deducts money off of their bill. We then bill the customer for those credits; 10 percent to 15 percent less if they’re an LMI customer. The customer only ends up paying 85 or 90 percent of what those credits were credited on their bill. For example, it’s July and you get $100 worth of credits on your PSE&G bill and you’re an LMI customer. You would get a bill from us for $85. You would only pay $85 for the $100 worth of electricity that was generated.
“The first way customers benefit is by saving money depending on if they are an LMI customer or not,” added Engelbourg. “The other way it benefits is because solar energy is 100 percent clean and renewable energy. That’s what goes into the grid, so that means PSE&G needs to purchase that much less fossil fuel energy from their suppliers. For every kilowatt hour we put into the grid of clean renewable energy as a kilowatt hour that didn’t get produced by natural gas, coal, etc., it helps to reduce the carbon footprint by having PSE&G reduce the amount of fossil fuel source power that they produce.”
With the community solar plant expected to be fully operational sometime this fall, Engelbourg said he is excited for this to unfold in Linden and other municipalities.
“This is the culmination of our work,” Engelbourg said. “It’s when we can get the plants operational and producing clean renewable energy, which is helping reduce carbon emissions, and, in the process, we’re saving customers money on their electricity. The city of Linden gets to benefit by having their residents save money, and they’re leasing a landfill that wasn’t producing any monetary benefits if we hadn’t built the solar facility. It’s a win-win for everyone to have a solar facility on a former landfill, because it makes good use of that land.”
Alex Lospinoso, the chief of staff to Linden Mayor Derek Armstead and director of the Linden Economic Development Corporation, said that when this opportunity came to Linden, it was a win for everyone.
“For the last 20 years, the city was paying to maintain this landfill, and we realized that the state has a new incentive that came from Gov. Phil Murphy, which is the community solar program, where you can put up solar panels and it can be beneficial for the community. So we decided to put out an RFP-RFQ (Request for Proposal and Request for Quote), to see what developers are interested in leasing our landfill, and we had about 70 responses,” Lospinoso said on Thursday, July 8. “We chose Navisun.
“When the solar panels are operational, Navisun is going to pay the city a lease agreement of approximately $250,000, as opposed to a landfill that was sitting there, not making us money but actually costing us money,” he continued. “This is a win-win for everyone, where the city is making $250,000 a year on the lease, Navisun will make money, because they’re providing solar energy, and we’re giving the residents the opportunity to save money on their electric bill. It’s a three-way win, for the developer, the city of Linden and residents.”
Lospinoso said he was excited about the community solar plant in Linden and believes this is one step further toward helping the city become greener.
“I personally believe that it is a terrific step in the right direction of reducing our carbon footprint and Linden adapting to make changes through technology and our environmental prudence,” Lospinoso said. “We’re being more environmentally friendly and we’re essentially utilizing a property that has been sitting there for almost 20 years. We’re turning it into a benefit for the city and, of course, the residents of the city.”
Residents who are interested in the program can visit https://njlocalsolar.com/ to sign up.