The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has reached an renewable energy milestone. The state has surpassed three gigawatts of solar power and 116,000 solar installations statewide.

Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the New Jersey BPU, said this is huge news. Just 10 years ago there were 4,900 solar installations in the state. Twenty years ago, there were six.

"We're rivaling sun-drenched states like Nevada, Arizona and Florida. We're actually number 6 in the country," Fiordaliso said.

He said the solar installation industry has employed 7,000 people and has been a major contributor to the economy and economic development in New Jersey.

New Jersey's solar program initially started with rebates. Then in 2007 and 2008, the Solar Renewable Energy Certificates program was established to make it more market-aligned and less reliant on rebates, letting homeowners to sell certificates for energy to their utilities.

But Fiordaliso said the state is now headed into the third phase of its solar program.

The NJ BPU recently launched a three-year community solar energy pilot program. letting utility customers participate in shared solar projects that aren't on their own properties. Customers get monthly credits for the power generated by their projects.

Fiordaliso said the program has given the opportunity to those folks of lower and moderate income means to participate in the clean energy revolution that's going on in New Jersey. And he said more participation in solar is critical to reducing our statewide carbon footprint.

"Climate change is real. Climate change is currently affecting our way of life. Storms are more severe. We are seeing a change in our climate and a change that is not going to be beneficial, particularly the coastal states like New Jersey," said Fiordaliso.

Fiordaliso said as the industrial and commercial sections of New Jersey have seen a burst of growth in solar installations, New Jersey has become "the Saudi Arabia of rooftops."

Last month, the NJBPU announced it received an overwhelming response with 252 applications for the first year of the pilot program.

The total capacity of solar currently installed in New Jersey can generate enough electricity to power 405,000 New Jersey homes annually.

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