New Jersey has always been one of the best states for solar: higher-than-average electricity rates and strong solar incentives have helped thousands of New Jerseyans achieve quick payback periods on their solar investments. Above all, the state’s renewable portfolio standard and associated solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) market have been instrumental towards growing solar throughout the state. However, in June 2018, the state decided to phase out SRECs in favor of a new, yet-to-be-established successor solar program. In an effort to bridge the gap between SRECs and the next phase of solar incentives, the Garden State decided is implementing an intermediate transition solar incentive, known as TRECs.
A quick background of solar incentives in New Jersey
New Jersey has a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires electric utility companies within the state to source 50 percent of its electricity from renewable technologies by 2030. Many states have an RPS, but New Jersey is among the few that also has a solar carve-out; this requires a set portion of this renewable electricity to come specifically from solar technologies. The Garden State set its solar carve-out to 5.1 percent of electricity sales by 2021.
To meet past RPS and solar carve-out targets, New Jersey implemented a solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) market. SRECs are performance-based incentives awarded to people generating solar electricity. Utilities buy SRECs from solar panel system owners to meet the state RPS requirements. If they don’t meet the requirements, utilities are required to pay a compliance fee (which costs more than what they would pay for an SREC).
In June 2018, the New Jersey legislature passed an ambitious clean energy bill: aside from increasing the state’s RPS and solar carve-out to the targets stated above, the bill also set a plan to overhaul the state’s SREC program. Importantly, they agreed to phase out the SREC program by June 2021 at the latest and develop an entirely new framework to support solar development throughout the state.
However, the state is reaching its 5.1 percent solar carve-out role faster than anticipated, and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) cannot implement SREC’s replacement program before meeting that target. In an effort to ease the transition between NJ’s SREC market and its successor solar incentive, the state announced a temporary intermediate incentive: Transition Renewable Energy Certificates (TRECs).
What are TRECs and how do they work?
In December 2019, the NJ BPU approved a transition incentive for solar projects that go live after the solar carve-out is reached, known as Transition Renewable Energy Certificates (TRECs).
At their core, TRECs are very similar to SRECs: both incentives are based on the production of your solar panel system, and you receive certificates based on megawatt-hour (MWh) of solar production. However, SRECs and TRECs vary in two important ways: fixed versus variable pricing, and factorization.
Fixed vs. variable pricing
The primary difference between the two credits is their pricing structure: SREC prices are variable, and the value of the incentive depends on supply and demand in the market at the time you sell it. TRECs, on the other hand, will have set pricing for the duration of the program, making it easier to predict exactly how much incentive money you’ll receive from the program.
Another big difference between SRECs and TRECs is factorization. With SRECs, the value you receive for a single SREC is the same regardless of the type of solar panel system you install: an SREC generated by a residential rooftop system is worth the same as an SREC generated on a large carport installation, so long as they’re sold at the same time. However, with TRECs, the value of your incentive varies depending on the type of installation.
The NJ BPU has assigned varying factors for individual solar projects; solar projects located on landfills have a higher TREC factor than a residential solar installation.
Below are various project types and the factor assigned to each:
|Landfill or brownfield installations||1|
|Net metered, non-residential rooftop or carport||1|
|Net metered, residential: ground mount, rooftop, or carport||0.6|
|Net metered, non-residential ground mount||0.6|
What do these factors mean in regards to TRECs? Projects with a factor of 1 receive the full TREC value, while those with less than 1 receive a specified fraction of it; for lower-factor projects, you need to generate more solar electricity to earn the full value TREC.
For every 1,000 kWh you generate with a residential rooftop solar panel system, you only generate 60 percent of a TREC’s price value. In other words, to earn the same amount as 1 full-value TREC, you need to generate 1,667 kWh worth of solar electricity.
Value of TRECs
The exact value of a TREC is yet to be determined, but will likely be announced in early 2020. Right now, the BPU is considering two options:
- A fixed TREC price for all 15 years of the incentive ($152)
- Price change at the start of year 4 ($65 for the first 3 years, $189 for the remaining 13 years)
What do these prices mean for a standard residential solar panel system? On the EnergySage Marketplace in 2019, the average residential solar panel system size quoted in New Jersey was 11.3 kW. Given conservative production estimates, you can expect a system of that size to generate 12,430 kWh during its first year of production. If this is a traditional, net-metered rooftop system, it would generate about 12 TRECs a year:
12,430 kWh / 1,000 kWh = 12.4 = 12 TRECs
If the NJ BPU decides on a fixed rate of $152 per TREC for all 15 years, 12 TRECs at $152 each means an additional $1,824 in solar savings; however, since residential projects only receive a fraction of the incentive, you need to multiply that value by the residential project factor (0.6) to receive an estimated savings of $1,094:
$152 per TREC x 12 TRECs x 0.6 = $1,094
If the BPU chooses the price change option, this incentive drops to $468 for the first three years, with larger benefit ($1,360) starting year 4:
$65 per TREC x 12 TRECs x 0.6 = $468
$189 per TREC x 12 TRECs x 0.6 = $1,360
Importantly, these are rough estimates that don’t take into account the annual degradation of your system. Additionally, solar energy production varies from system to system, and how much you can earn with TRECs will depend on your system size, the quality of your solar equipment, how much sunlight hits your solar panels, and more. The best way to get an accurate estimate for estimated TREC benefit is to compare multiple options that are custom to your property.
What’s next for solar incentives in New Jersey?
In early 2020, the NJ BPU will determine final pricing for TRECs. All projects that are installed after October 29th, 2018 and don’t begin receiving SREC payments before the program hits the 5.1 percent cap (likely mid-2020) are placed into the TRECs program. We will update this article as further pricing information and SREC deadlines are made publically available.
Compare solar options on EnergySage
It’s never too soon to go solar. On EnergySage, you can compare multiple options side-by-side from local New Jersey installers that take into account the current incentives available. To start receiving free solar quotes, sign up on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace today. Alternatively, if you want to start out your process with an estimate for what solar would cost you, try our Solar Calculator.