PowerMarket, an industry leader in community solar management services, has partnered with Laureen Boles, former Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA) and current trustee of NJ Future, to support energy equity in New Jersey. Ms. Boles has been on the forefront of enhancing equity for decades.
After serving as a City of Philadelphia civil engineer and environmental planner for 30 years, Ms. Boles decided to take her expertise in water management and learn about other environmental issues to help improve the overall health of communities that had been historically marginalized.
“After receiving a civil engineering degree from Howard University, I studied City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, [where I] learn[ed] more about land use issues. That’s how I was introduced to environmental justice work, and why I made the transition to the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance,” she said.
As the executive director at NJEJA, Ms. Boles focused on bettering the lives of low- and-moderate income (LMI) communities who too often face environmental justice issues like energy inequity. For instance, solar energy sources have been a great way to lower the cost of energy for customers, but historically have not been accessible to all.
When discussing barriers that have restricted marginalized communities from accessing rooftop solar, Ms. Boles pointed out many. She explained that, “...a solar energy customer needs to be the property owner, with a roof in good condition… then there is the issue of whether the roof is unobstructed… and whether the customer has the financial capacity to be able to afford solar panels.”
However, community solar allows these previously marginalized communities to take part in the benefits of solar energy. Today, New Jersey homeowners and renters can simply subscribe to a portion of a larger solar project near them with no upfront costs or fees. The credits from the clean energy that is produced by their portion of the project are applied to their electricity bill and reduce it. Then, the customer receives an invoice for these credits but at a discount, ultimately guaranteeing savings on their electricity costs every month.
For many New Jersey residents, such as LMI households, this is the first time they have the opportunity to take part in and benefit from clean energy. “Community solar allows [LMI communities] to have an opportunity to reduce their electric bill without the need to put solar panels on their roofs,” Ms. Boles explained. “Access to clean energy… addresses air quality issues, [while providing] economic benefits to LMI communities,” she said.
Community solar is not only accessible to more people but also can encourage the participation of those from previously marginalized communities by reserving spots for them. During the first year of the New Jersey Community Solar Energy Pilot program, Ms. Boles wrote letters of support for community solar projects that set aside spots for LMI residents. “The opportunity to... bring to fruition some of those [community solar project] proposals was a win-win. Community solar is an opportunity to provide the LMI community with the services they need to address climate change… as well as provide [them] an economic benefit,” she said. “PowerMarket was of those proposals that provided benefits most directly to the LMI communities,” Ms. Boles added.