Assembly Bill Aims to Close New Jersey's Energy-Efficiency Gap

Singleton's proposed law would create low-cost loan program to help low-income New Jerseyans finance energy-efficient technologies

Helping consumers reduce their energy use is a positive proposition, but unfortunately many residents cannot afford the upfront capital costs needed to achieve that goal.

To eliminate that barrier, a Burlington County lawmaker is pushing legislation (A-4533) that would establish a low-cost loan program to help residents without the money to install equipment like solar panels instead buy energy-efficient appliances and other green technologies.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), aims to address an issue long troubling to some. Those customers most in need of help in easing sky-high utility bills are least able to afford the technology or products to do so -- even as they pay a surcharge on their utility bills to subsidize those efforts.

That dilemma probably was most demonstrably underscored by the state’s initial efforts to award lucrative rebates to homeowners and businesses to install solar panels. The bulk of the money went to people who could afford to pay the difference between the rebates and installation costs, often running into tens of thousands of dollars.

Under Singleton’s bill, however, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority would issue up to $200 million in revenue bonds to finance a “green infrastructure’’ program to clear that hurdle.

“By making energy-efficiency improvements more accessible and affordable to those who have traditionally been underserved, we can alleviate the financial impact and put more New Jerseyans to work through pro-green initiatives,’’ Singleton said. “Creating an innovative system, while furthering New Jersey’s goal to be an environmental leader is a win-win situation.’’

The state has set aggressive goals to curb energy consumption by residents and businesses, but achieving them often requires upfront capital to buy energy-efficient boilers, appliances, and refrigerators, or pricier equipment for more intensive energy users, such as large manufacturers.

To many, it precludes taking advantage of the programs even though they contribute to the funding of such efforts through surcharges on their monthly electric and gas bills, which run more than $5.00 per month for the typical residential customer.

Singleton’s bill would provide a financing program to make equipment and installations affordable to cash-strapped electric and gas customers. The measure aims to establish a way to acquire and provide alternative low-cost financing for underserved markets.

“This measure will not only provide a pathway towards our nation’s goal of energy self-sufficiency, but will also provide greater energy security and diversification,’’ the lawmaker said. “It will also support the effort to meet the renewable energy portfolio standards and energy-efficiency requirements in New Jersey’s evolving energy market.’’

By 2020, New Jersey hopes to have at least 20 percent of its electricity produced by renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, and reduce its energy use by nearly the same amount.

To help finance the effort, the bill would create a green infrastructure fee for utility customers taking advantage of the program who receive a low-interest loan to fund energy-efficiency initiatives.

Original article