For decades, CEC has delivered conventional and mission-critical services to the power industry. We’re a provider of choice due to our in-depth, long-term engagements with some of the nation’s largest, most complex power-related projects. Electric utilities, independent power producers and developers, and EPC organizations rely on us to manage risk, regulatory requirements, and financial expectations.
CEC is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our clients in the ever-changing power industry. One of the hottest developments in the past few years is solar energy — converting the rays of the sun into electricity.
Jamie Boyd, Director of Solar Business Development with NJR Clean Energy Ventures Corp. and a CEC client, answered a few questions from Kris Macoskey, CEC’s Renewables Lead, about her work in the solar industry.
QUESTION: Would you tell us about your career path?
ANSWER: I accepted a position with Iberdrola Renewables (now Avangrid Renewables) in January 2007.
Iberdrola Renewables had just entered the U.S. market, and I was fortunate to begin my career as the true growth was happening. I was exposed to a dynamic industry, and I volunteered for every opportunity that came up. Iberdrola Renewables was later integrated with PPM Energy, and that opened the door for even more opportunities, including representing Iberdrola Renewables on due diligence activities for two financing portfolios in excess of $450 million. My final position with Iberdrola Renewables was Supervisor, Development Projects and Leases. Overall, I spent eight and a half years with Iberdrola. After Iberdrola Renewables, I worked with some leading solar companies, including SunEdison, GE Current, and Sunpin Solar. I initially focused only on solar interconnection, but eventually branched into project development. Before joining NJR Clean Energy Ventures, I worked as a Business Development Manager at Sunpin with projects across the country.
NJR Clean Energy Ventures is the clean energy subsidiary of New Jersey Resources (NJR) and a leader in the solar industry. NJR Clean Energy Ventures has an extensive commercial solar portfolio with more than $1 billion invested. What attracted me to Clean Energy Ventures (CEV) was the ability to work for a company that had financing in house. The uncertain nature of external financing can be difficult when looking at potential investments that are years away from construction. Plus, this position gives me an opportunity to make a difference in helping to revitalize areas that have been economically depressed.
NJR is a Fortune 1000 company that provides natural gas and clean energy services, including transportation, distribution, asset management, and home services. The company is composed of five core businesses: New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) is the principal subsidiary of NJR; NJR Energy Services (NJRES) is NJR’s natural gas marketing business; Storage & Transportation serves local distributors and producers, electric generators and wholesale marketers; NJR Home Services is NJR’s appliance service business; and NJR Clean Energy Ventures invests in, owns, and operates solar projects in New Jersey and surrounding states with a total installed capacity of nearly 370 megawatts.
QUESTION: Can you give our readers your 10,000-foot perspective on what has been happening in recent years in the solar market?
ANSWER: Solar installations have increased dramatically over the past 10 years due to continuous declines in material and installation costs coupled with increases in panel efficiency and energy output.
Per Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are 121.4 gigawatts of installed capacity in the U.S. alone. Additionally, as of March 2022, nearly 4% of the electricity used in the U.S. comes from solar energy, which is more than 80 times its share a decade ago. This is a considerable increase in a fairly short period of time.
QUESTION: Are there certain geographic areas that NJR focuses on?
ANSWER: NJR Clean Energy Ventures has grown tremendously since it was founded in 2010 through disciplined capital allocation in projects that meet its investment criteria.
Today, CEV is one of the largest solar owners and operators in New Jersey, and our team has recently applied its expertise and strategic investments to diversify and expand its portfolio outside the state. I was brought into CEV to help grow its commercial solar footprint in and beyond New Jersey. We currently have six projects (140 MWdc) sited across Pennsylvania that have been submitted into the PJM Interconnection queue. (PJM is a regional transmission organization.) We are actively looking within various states across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for targeted investment.
QUESTION: It seems that there is a bit of a land grab to find sites for solar development. Are sites hard to find? What makes a site suitable or unsuitable?
ANSWER: With the continued growth of the solar industry, developers are focused on identifying investment opportunities across the United States, and more recently, Pennsylvania. Each company determines its core focus — some prefer brownfields, others prefer rooftops. At CEV, we have a talented team with extensive experience and who understands the complexities of developing, constructing, owning, and operating large commercial solar projects from landfills and brownfields to floating solar. In fact, we recently began construction on our second floating solar project in Millburn, N.J. When complete, this 8.9 MW project will be the largest floating solar array in the United States.
CEV also made a decision to look strategically at Pennsylvania as an upcoming market.
With key partnerships, such as CEC, we are able to look at remediated coal sites, for example, with confidence that the project will be designed properly.
QUESTION: What makes a site suitable?
ANSWER: From a project development perspective, I review the local and state permitting regulations and requirements against the site’s conditions. Also, the steepness of the slopes, as well as if the site faces south. This is important to ensure maximum exposure to the sun. Proximity to interconnection is another critical consideration. For example, some rural locations may have large voltage lines running through the area, which can make it challenging. These items are among the most crucial to consider for ensuring a successful project.
In this industry, changes can happen in an instant. You have to adapt and adjust.
Legislative or regulatory delays can happen, as well as other factors that are beyond your control.
As a solar developer, you want to be prepared and positioned to respond when changes occur. The solar marketplace is a constantly evolving and growing industry. Every market is completely different from the next.
Remember a working knowledge from one state, county, or region might not be applicable to another.
Utility tariffs, permitting entities/agencies, and siting regulations have operating procedures that are far different from one state to the next, so it is imperative to have a firm understanding of the playing field.