Building a Sustainable Garden State, One Community at a Time

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Galloway Township Community Garden

Galloway Township developed its community garden as part of a statewide sustainability initiative.

Sustainable Jersey isn’t looking to save the planet, just a small corner of it — at least for now.

The nonpartisan nonprofit, according to its website, “is a certification program for New Jersey municipalities that want to go green, save money and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term.”

Participating towns and cities earn points toward certification for accomplishing a variety of goals — priority and mandatory “actions” — that increase their sustainability. These could include performing an energy audit on a municipal building (20 points); inventorying and upgrading the energy efficiency of those buildings (50 points); and establishing and enforcing an anti-idling mandate (10 points).

There are two levels of certification: bronze (150 points ) and silver (350 points). A gold program is in the works.

Sustainable Jersey has just certified 52 more bronze municipalities, bringing the total for that category to 117. Twenty towns have earned silver certification. A total of 399 towns are participating in the program, representing about half the state’s municipalities and nearly three-quarters of its population. (An interactive map on the program’s website makes it clear just how dense its coverage is.)

The program’s success is based in part on cash-strapped municipalities saving money on expenditures like energy bills or landfill fees, but is really based on a growing recognition that community action can play a key role in creating a more sustainable world for future generations, participants said.

“For the most part, people are looking at ways to do the right thing for the environment,” said Dominikija Prostak, head of the “Green Team” – a panel that steers sustainable policy – in Frenchtown, which received a bronze certification at an awards ceremony in Atlantic City on November 19.

Grants are often available from public and private groups to pay for work like energy audits. Funders include Sustainable Jersey itself which this year supported local programs with grants of $2,000 to $25,000, totaling $600,000. Sources of other grants, loans, and tax credits are listed on the organization’s website.

Sustainable Jersey makes it clear that sustainability is also about issues like health and wellness, diversity and social inclusion, and economic development.

“When we talk about sustainability, we talk about people, prosperity and planet,” said co-founder Donna Drewes. “It’s not just environmental issues.”

Towns don’t have to pay Sustainable Jersey to participate, but signing on requires a significant investment of citizens’ time and effort to meet rigorous sustainability standards that are set by a task force of state agencies, nonprofits, universities, and local officials.

Any municipality seeking certification is required first to pass a resolution stating its intent to embark on the program. It must also designate a liaison person; complete an online registration; select the actions that will earn their certification, and create a Green Team to manage the process.

Participating communities can choose from 16 categories of action, from animals in the community to green design to sustainability planning, all explained in detail on the organization’s website.

Those interested in climate mitigation and adaptation, for example, can opt to create a community carbon footprint, for which they may be able to obtain funding, and which will earn them 10 points.

Or they can build a community garden, a project that Sustainable Jersey says is likely to take six to nine months to develop and cost between $1,500 and $15,000 but will earn just 10 points towards the 150 that are required for bronze certification.

In a sign of the rigorous nature of the certification requirements, towns are warned that a community garden project will also require the designation of a responsible person; a team to do the work, and money to pay for insurance, tools, and possibly the salary of a part-time gardener.

Those interested in transportation issues may decide to create a “complete streets” program, worth 20 points, which recognizes pedestrians and bicyclists as legitimate road users as well as cars.

In Frenchtown, actions included conducting an energy audit on its public buildings — the borough hall and police headquarters — which resulted in conversion from oil heat to natural gas, a lighting upgrade, and the installation of programmable thermostats.

Seventy percent of the audit’s cost was paid for by the Jersey Board of Public Utilities, while the remainder came from state and municipal funds. The resulting improvements were paid for in part by federal funding of $20,000.

The rewards of the energy audit came in the form of fuel bills which more than halved to $4,000 a year because of conversion to natural gas, as well as 50 points toward certification, or almost a quarter of the town’s 170-point total.

To earn 10 more points, the green team built a community garden on half an acre of land that had been purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the lot had been repeatedly flooded by the Delaware River.

In a project spearheaded by the local Lions Club, the land was cleared and fenced, all by local volunteers who also built raised beds and wooden walkways out of pallets. In-kind donations came from a local farmer who tilled the land and donated fence posts, and from local businesses including Lowes, Home Depot, and Ocean Spray. Local businesses have donated food waste for composting while the municipal court has used the garden for community-service projects.

For another 10 points, the community held a green fair which promoted a host of sustainable practices including waste reduction, line-drying of laundry, and collecting rain water in barrels. Vendors at the event in September 2012 were barred from serving food in Styrofoam containers.

The Hunterdon County community of some 1,400 people has united around the sustainability program, which has become more than just a means of saving money, said Mayor Warren Cooper.

“Something magical happens in this Sustainable Jersey effort,” Cooper said. “We’ve incorporated the goal of being a sustainable community into our self-concept.”

Cooper argued that the local program does not reflect the efforts of a small cadre of eco-zealots but has engaged the whole community, which he described as a rural blue-collar town with a diverse socioeconomic profile. “If we can do it, anybody can do it,” he said.

Now that it has the buy-in of many municipalities, Sustainable Jersey is extending its reach to school systems. In a program due to be launched in fall 2014, the group is creating a code of best practices and sustainability metrics for schools. When implemented, the program will provide specific measures that schools can take to go green; they will be encouraged to use any cost savings from measures such as reduced energy use to improve educational programs.

The schools program will be an opportunity to combine different aspects of sustainability such as health and environmentalism, Drewes said. For example, an effort to stop parents idling their cars while picking up children from school could improve air quality, reduce childhood asthma and fuel consumption, and lower carbon emissions, she said.

“When the municipal program had such an impact, schools said they wanted to get in on this,” said Drewes. “The certification model is a way for us to celebrate this and help move schools and municipal governments forward.”

The schools program will raise students’ and teachers’ awareness of green issues while saving money for school districts, said Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“We believe that board members need to be trained in the many benefits of sustainability and green technology so that schools can be operated more efficiently, and the money saved can be put back into instruction,” he said in a statement.

Among current participants, some townships are motivated to out-green others, said Randall Solomon, the group’s other codirector.

“There’s a virtuous competition,” he said. “Municipalities want to one-up their neighbors.”

Solomon cited his own community of Highland Park which raised its sustainability standard to silver this year after seeing nearby http://www.twp.woodbridge.nj.usWoodbridge attaining the higher level. Highland Park earned the higher certification with 355 points this year but remains well behind Woodbridge which, with 870 points, has by far the highest sustainability rating in the state.

Woodbridge’s latest green projects include a 30 percent reduction in the miles traveled by trash trucks; conversion of salt-spreading trucks from gasoline to electric; and the purchase of 12 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles for its municipal fleet. It also purchases recycled paper, green cleaning products, and energy-efficient appliances.

Communities are increasingly concerned with presenting themselves as environmentally conscious, just as politicians are aware of the vote-getting potential of green credentials, Solomon argued.

“Green branding is important to the image of a town,” he said. “There are very few people who have a negative association with a place that pursues sustainable policies.”

More tangibly, people are motivated by simply saving money by using less energy and less water while generating less waste, all areas that are low-hanging fruit for local governments struggling to balance tight budgets, Solomon said.

“A lot of these things are just stingy government,” he said.

Despite the green zeal of towns like Woodbridge and Frenchtown, their current ratings don’t show that they are truly sustainable, Solomon said. The majority with a bronze certification, though moving in the right direction, are not sustainable yet, while silver towns are making “significant” progress, and are statewide leaders, he said.

Sustainable Jersey hasn’t yet published a gold certification but is working on it, Solomon said. When launched, it will differ from the lower levels by setting performance standards such as specific reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The program’s success has made it a national model, and it’s beginning to be replicated in other states. Maryland now has a statewide program that’s similar to New Jersey’s.

But for now, the program is unique, said Michelle Knapik, Director of Sustainable Environment Programs at the [hppp://www.surdna.orgSurdna Foundation] which promotes green programs nationwide, and supports Sustainable Jersey with $225,000 a year.

“I do not believe there is any (other) systemic program that connects the learning across communities at a statewide level to leverage resources in effective ways in a way that Sustainable Jersey does,” Knapik said in an interview.

She argued that New Jersey’s small size has aided the process of communities learning from each other in urban, suburban, or rural settings, but said the model is replicable anywhere.

“It’s at a point where national funders and others can come in and say, ‘Wow, you are capturing amazing learning about this operating system. How can we help you replicate it in other places?’” she said.

Curtis Fisher, northeast regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said Sustainable Jersey succeeds because it helps people act on their sincere but unfocused desire to live with more environmental sensitivity.

“People want to do this but they may not know how to do it,” he said.

Although communities may save money and make themselves more attractive to business by going green, people are really motivated by a concern for the earth and future generations, Fisher said.

“Most people come to this because they want a better future for our planet and their children,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sustainable Jersey is building on a green impulse that was taking root in some towns even before the program began.

Ocean County’s [|Galloway Township] built a community garden at a cost of $15,000 in 2008, a year before the statewide program launched. Since then, the community of around 39,000 people has earned a silver certification by measures such as developing an inventory of natural assets like soils and waterways, mapping its “carbon footprint” and compiling a fleet inventory of municipal vehicles.

This year, the township spent $10,000 on sustainable landscaping, has been teaching residents about invasive species, and promoting water conservation, said Barbara Fiedler, who heads Galloway’s Green Team. All the measures earned Galloway 430 points, well above the 350 required for silver status.

In addition to the Green Team’s work, the program appears to be changing people’s behavior, Fiedler said, citing a rise in the city’s recycling rate to 50 percent from about 44 percent in 2007.

“I think people are a lot more aware,” she said. “We don’t get anybody complaining about it.”

But the business community seems less interested, Fiedler said. Some businesses are failing to recycle as they are required to, and need to be reminded.

“That’s at odds with the experience of participating townships, which see sustainability as a lifestyle choice rather than a series of onerous tasks,” Solomon said. “It’s not about jumping through hoops. “It’s about implementing life changes.”

Jon Hurdle is a Philadelphia-based freelance reporter who covers energy, environmental, and general news for national and regional media.

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This article, Building a Sustainable Garden State, One Community at a Time, is syndicated from NJSpotlight and is posted here with permission.

Most Attractive States For Investing In Solar

by Zachary Shahan.


Originally published on Cost of Solar.

–> See how much money solar power could save you!

There are a lot of ways to evaluate the attractiveness of a place for renewable energy or solar energy investment, and to evaluate the best solar states. Of course, it depends on what factors and assumptions you take into account, as well as what segment of the market you are actually evaluating.

One of the leading evaluators of such markets is Ernst & Young (EY). The “professional services firm” recently released its most up-to-date renewable energy attractiveness indices for the US, including a solar energy index. The report includes solar market data for 2012 as well as a well-researched ranking of states by their solar energy investment attractiveness. The overall summary is clear, as we have been writing for months here on the US solar market is booming.

US Solar Market Booming

“In 2012 the US installed 3,313 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, with 1,300 MW coming in Q4 alone, surpassing both annual and quarterly records. Even with falling costs the dollar value of the market size of the US solar industry grew 34% in 2012,” EY writes. “The cumulative total of solar PV in the US is now at 7,221 MW, with cumulative PV installations exceeding 300,000 individual units.”

A new solar panel installation is now occurring every 4 minutes in the US, according to an analysis from GTM Research.

Solar Leasing Is Hot

As I’ve reported a few times previously, solar leasing is hot. This is partly due to the fact that residential solar power has become quite cheap, and partly due to the fact that people are attracted to $0 down purchasing options, especially when the products (i.e., solar panels) save them money from Day 1. This makes going solar a no-brainer (even more than it already is).

EY writes: “Third-party ownership or leasing of rooftop solar PV systems in the US accounted for more than 50% of the residential and commercial market in 2012. Average residential system prices dropped nearly 20% between Q4 2011 and Q4 2012, and industry experts expect this segment of the market to surge as third-party financing options spread throughout the country.”

US Southwest Is Hot

The leading states are largely in the Southwest, thanks in part to its tremendous solar energy potential, but there are some outliers.

“The top five states for solar electric capacity installed in 2012 were California (becoming the first state to install over 1,000 MW in a single year), Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and North Carolina, while the leaders in cumulative solar capacity installed through 2012 were California, Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and Colorado.”

The 10 most attractive states for solar energy investment, according to EY, are now:

Best Solar States For Return On Investment (ROI)

Overall, I find the EY report very useful, as it includes fairly comprehensive policy and market analyses, and even does so for the top solar states.

However, as people who have read me for awhile know, I’m a big fan of relative rankings… of which there are very few. Looking at absolute rankings such as total solar power capacity, you miss who is leading the way on a per capita or per GDP basis. And you miss which states offer the best return on investment for a single residential solar power system.

If you’re curious about the latter, you may have noticed that we’ve already shared a great ranking on that, which changed the above order a bit to come up with this top 10 ranking:

  1. Hawaii — 24% IRR
  2. DC (if you want to include it) — 20% IRR
  3. New York — 17% IRR
  4. Connecticut — 16% IRR
  5. Colorado — 15% IRR
  6. Massachusetts — 15% IRR
  7. New Mexico — 13% IRR
  8. California — 12% IRR
  9. South Carolina – 12% IRR
  10. Delaware – 12% IRR
Best Solar States Per Capita

At the end of 2012, the top solar states for installed solar power per capita ranking shuffles the top solar states around yet again:


Image Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica. Data Credit: GTM Research / SEIA.


Image Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica. Data Credit: GTM Research / SEIA.

Best Solar States… Depends On Your Aims

In the end, I think all of this data is quite interesting. And it offers useful lessons of different types. The EY ranking is certainly useful to investors and major companies who want to figure out the policies and market of one or more states in order to invest in solar projects for the best return on investment (ROI). It also helps show how large states and even countries can better promote solar power.

The solar ROI study briefly mentioned after that is actually useful for the same thing (through slightly different data and research). But it’s also useful for individual homeowners or small businesses who are considering the switch to solar.

And the per capita rankings show us who the true state leaders are, showing us which states’ solar or electricity policies would be most worth emulating.

But, really, for our main audience (the common Joe), there’s simply one thing to do: find out how much solar power could save you, get connected to the best installer for your money in your region, and go solar so that you can start savings tens of thousands of dollars off your electricity bills.

The longer you wait to make the switch, the more money you are throwing away on dirty power from a monopolistic utility company. And the fact is, you can get an estimate of how much you’d save in less time than it takes to watch another cat video or Gangnam Style.

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This article, Most Attractive States For Investing In Solar, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.

SolarWorld Brings Solar Financing For US-Made Solar Panels To Hawaii

by Nicholas Brown — Special to JBS News

This will be refreshing to many: SolarWorld, a company that is well known for producing solar modules, is now providing Hawaii with the option to enjoy its solar financing packages, and with the guarantee that the solar panels they get on their roofs will receive American-made solar panels!

This service, offered exclusively through Inter-Island Solar Supply, could be helpful to Hawaii, which has high electricity prices and abundant sunshine.


According to Business Green, SolarWorld provides complete photovoltaic systems with monitoring, installation, insurance, and maintenance for up to 20 years, through its network of installers.

Like SolarCity and Solar Universe, it provides solar panels with financing options to reduce the initial purchase costs (such as zero-down financing options, low down payments, and prepayment), so that you can offset a fraction of your monthly bill with solar panels and pay a lower monthly fee for electricity instead. This is done under the SolarWorld Freedom ™ Plan.

“We are excited to partner with SolarWorld to bring the Freedom Plan financing program to the Hawaii’s homeowners,” said Ron Richmond, manager of business development for Inter-Island Solar Supply. “The Freedom Plan enables Hawaii families to reduce their electric bills by removing the high cost of purchasing a PV system.”

The Freedom Plan is now available in the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. It is to be expanded to additional American markets, such as Arizona and New York, in the coming months.

If interested, you can make inquiries through their website.

SolarWorld appears to welcome third parties to join their network of solar panel installers. If you would like to register to become a SolarWorld installer, you can do so on its website.

Follow @Kompulsa on Twitter.

About the Author

Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.

US Adds 976MW new Solar PV Capacity In 2Q as California Sets Record

by Silvio Marcacci — Special to JBS News

The US solar photovoltaic (PV) industry just keeps shining, with rising demand across the country pushing installed capacity in second quarter (2Q) 2013 up 24% compared to first quarter (1Q) 2013.

America added 976 megawatts (MW) of new solar PV capacity just in 2Q 2013 alone, according to the NPD Solarbuzz North America PV Markets Quarterly report.

Solar PV demand is expected to continue growing through 2013, but roughly 75% of this new capacity is concentrated in just five states – evidence of the impact smart state policy can have on renewable energy.

US solar PV 2Q 2013 capacity additions by state
US solar PV 2Q 2013 capacity additions chart via NPD Solarbuzz.

Solar PV Demand Growing Fast

The 976MW of new solar PV capacity installed across the country in 2Q could power US solar markets toward a supercharged 2013. 2Q’s installed capacity was 24% higher than 1Q’s 788MW. Utilities led the way with 59% of all projects, and 72% were ground-mounted systems concentrated mainly in several large-scale projects across the Western US.

NPD Solarbuzz predicts solar PV demand will grow 14% to 1.04GW in third quarter (3Q) 2013 en route to an 17% annual increase in PV demand across the US compared to 2012, for a total of 4.22GW new annual installed capacity.

That’s an impressive amount, no doubt, but the best may still be yet to come. An estimated 44GW of commercial and utility projects are in the development pipeline, including 2,300 projects of 50 kilowatts and higher — with more than half of those on commercial locations. At this rate, NPD Solarbuzz predicts the US will be home to 20% of total global solar PV demand within five years.

Growth Concentrated In Just A Few States

But even though the American solar industry’s outlook is brighter than ever, the resulting growth is shining squarely on just a handful of states. California represented a whopping 53% of all 2Q solar PV capacity addition, reaffirming its position as the epicenter of the US clean tech market.”

“California alone reached 521MW, which is a new record for PV added by any state in the US for a three-month period,” said Finlay Colvile of NPD Solarbuzz. “California has added 1.6GW in the past 12 months, with a further 1.1GW forecast for the second half of the year.”

North Carolina, which has fought against efforts to roll back the state renewable energy standard, ranked second with 8% of all 2Q additions. 285MW of new solar PV capacity will come online in the state over 2013, an 80% increase compared to 2012, and demand is forecast to grow an additional 30% in 2014.

New Jersey, which recently became the third state to pass 1GW installed solar, followed close behind at 7%. Arizona and Texas rounded out the top five at 6% and 4% respectively, while eight other states combined for 28% of all remaining solar PV capacity additions.

How Hot Will Solar PV’s Future Get?

The NPD Solarbuzz report once again illuminates the economic and environmental benefits that renewables can create when governments set and maintain progressive policies. America’s solar surge has already pushed it into the ultra-exclusive 10GW installed solar PV club, and it’s helping power green jobs growth across the country.

Falling costs have been the main driver of demand, but state incentives and regulations have remained a steadying hand and dictated where growth has occurred. Consumers could save $20 billion annually by 2050 if solar continues to grow, and every single state in America has the potential to generate more electricity from solar energy than it uses in a single year. Here’s hoping more states will see the light.

This article, US Adds 976MW New Solar PV Capacity In 2Q As California Sets Record, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.


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Making Solar Affordable To Those Who Cant Afford

By Katie Valentine – Special to JBS News

Originally published on Climate Progress.

Rick Lopez said he felt like he’d won the lottery.

Lopez, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran and Denver, CO resident, had a 3-kilowatt solar system installed on his house by a group of volunteers on Wednesday, completely free of charge. The project was initiated by GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit organization whose story was highlighted in the Denver Post this week. Lopez’s new system should provide power for 60 to 100 percent of his home’s electricity, and will save him hundreds of dollars in electricity costs each year.

“We would never have been able to do this on our own,” Rick’s wife Roberta Lopez told the Denver Business Journal. “We take it as a blessing.”

California-based GRID Alternatives installs solar systems on low-income households in California, Colorado and soon, in New York and New Jersey. The organization has installed 3,500 solar systems in California so far, projects that according to the organization have saved the homeowners $80 million in energy costs and will result in the reduction of 250,000 tons of greenhouse gasses over their lifetimes.

Once the solar system is installed, the homeowner pays GRID two cents for every kilowatt-hour that the solar panels produce, which typically results in energy bill savings of 80 percent. If the system produces all the household’s energy, a homeowner in Colorado would pay just $13 per month to GRID, compared to the state’s average $75.67 electricity bill.

“It’s really just a huge relief for those families,” Julian Foley, GRID Alternative’s communication manager told Denver Westword. “They can spend money on other things they need… That’s spending money that goes back to the community.”

And the free installation is key — though the price of installing solar in the U.S. has fallen to record lows, it’s still out of reach for many Americans. The solar systems GRID installs can cost up to $17,000, but grants bring the cost down to about $5,000.

GRID depends on volunteers to complete the installations, a setup which, along with donated equipment and corporate backing, helps make the organization’s work possible. But job trainees also work on installations — the organization partners with local community colleges and organizations like Veterans Green Jobs to provide job training for the clean energy sector. Through these partnerships, the organization also finds people who are eligible to receive free solar systems — those at an income level of 80 percent or below their area’s median level.

In California, the work GRID does also gets state funding through the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH). The program provides up-front rebates for low-income families who want to install solar systems, and GRID is the program manager for SASH’s $108 million in funds. The program will run until December 2015 or until the funding runs out — and as the demand for SASH and its counterpart, the Multi-family Affordable Solar Homes Program, which provides rebates for affordable housing projects, grows, the second scenario is looking more realistic. A bill has been taken up in the California Assembly to extend funding of the program to 2021.

Though it might be one of the most extensive, GRID isn’t the only group that aims to bring clean energy and energy efficiency to low-income Americans. Washington, D.C. provides a low-income option for its renewable energy incentive program, and in New York City, Enterprise Community Partners is building super-efficient affordable housing buildings — a new 197-unit development New York City is LEED and Energy Star certified and has 214-kilowatt solar system on its roof. A New York state program provides free insulation, draft reduction, high efficiency lighting and appliance upgrades to low-income residents, and Vermont has a similar program.

This article, Making Solar Affordable To Those Who Can’t Afford, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.