Situation: New Jersey Hits 1 GW Solar Milestone

05_Flatbed_WEB - JULY

You’ve got hand it to New Jersey. For a non-Sunbelt state, it kicks ass in solar power.

This is something we’ve noted before, but it deserves mention now, because sometime in late February, the state hit the 1-gigawatt mark in total installed solar electric capacity, according to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities [PDF].

The question going forward is if New Jersey will continue to be a leader. Gov. Chris Christie thinks so.

“Reaching the 1 gigawatt of solar capacity milestone is an incredible achievement and represents New Jersey’s continued commitment to renewable energy,” Christie said in the board’s release. “It is clear that  New Jersey will remain one of the largest solar energy markets in the United States.”

New Jersey trails California by a long shot in cumulative capacity installed; the Golden State had 2,902 megawatts as of the end of 2012. But California has the advantage of not only having a much larger population (and being just a little bit sunnier), it also has some mammoth, triple-figure-megawatt utility-scale developments that boost its total. In New Jersey, a 12.5-megawatt plant is about as big as they come.

Where New Jersey has shined over the years is in what the data-keepers call nonresidential or commercial installations — solar that goes on government, business and nonprofit buildings. The Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research said they found that “New Jersey was responsible for nearly one-third of the nation’s non-residential […] solar installations last year. In total, more than 415 megawatts of solar was added to the state’s power grid in 2012, a 33 percent increase over 2011 (313 megawatts).”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the report also noted that after a strong start to 2012, New Jersey commercial installations began to fall off in the middle of the year and never really recovered. That actually caused New Jersey to fall from number two behind California to number 3, behind Arizona, in total installed capacity.

That led the Sierra Club to say that New Jersey could be doing better. On its Facebook page, the club blamed Gov. Chris Christie for New Jersey’s slackening installation pace:

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