The state Board of Public Utilities gave the green light to proposals from four utilities that together will yield 145 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power about 130,000 homes, and will boost the state total to 232 megawatts.
"We're all in this climate change boat together, and we're all going to sink or swim together," board president Jeanne Fox said.
With global warming, many nations have been working to reduce the use of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases, a major contributor to pollution and climate change. The United States had 791 megawatts of solar capacity at the end of last year, with California accounting for 530 megawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
New Jersey Gov.
Jon Corzine has said he wants 30 percent of the energy consumed in the state to come from renewable sources by 2020.
Of the projects approved, PSE&G proposed the largest $515 million in solar panels installed on more than 200,000 utility poles plus solar gardens and rooftop arrays. Combined, the solar plants will produce 80 megawatts of electricity and power about 72,000 homes. The utility, New Jersey's largest, expects to complete the project by the end of 2013.
Consumers initially will pay $1.28 a year to fund the solar generation, and pay up to $4.08 by 2028.
The project is expected to create about 200 jobs. South Plainfield-based Petra Solar will produce solar panels for PSE&G and says most of some 100 workers it expects to hire will be used for the project. Also, PSE&G estimates an additional 90 jobs will be created for other parts of the project.
Regulators also approved proposals from three utilities that together will generate an estimated 65 megawatts of electricity from the sun. Jersey Central Power & Light was given the OK to contract for 42 megawatts of solar power through 2012. Atlantic City Electric Company was cleared for 19 megawatts and Rockland Electric Company, for 3.8 megawatts.
Solar energy currently costs more to produce between $6 and $8 per watt than power generated from fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, according to Lance Miller, chief of policy and planning for the board. The cost is expected to reach parity in seven to 10 years.