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The Sun Shines On Jersey: How Garden State Developments Are Turning Solar Panels Into Selling Points

While New Jersey is best known as the birthplace of both of your gbNYC editors — there’s a rest stop named after us on the Parkway, just south of Cheesequake — it’s also a small, proud state with a lot going on. From terrible basketball teams to even worse politics, from fried hot dogs to other foods that are not nearly as delicious as fried hot dogs, New Jersey has… well, it doesn’t have it all, at least if “it all” includes a basketball team that isn’t a fearsomely efficient heartache machine. But New Jersey has a lot going on for such a small state. A recent report from Rowan University and Rutgers University, though, highlights the downside of that — by 2050, the report states, New Jersey may be all sprawled out, and effectively out of room. It’s true that Jersey is not necessarily an exemplar of forward-thinking zoning and planning — although Richard Meier’s planned Teacher’s Village in Newark is just one example of how that’s changing. But let it never be said, when it comes to housing or anything else, that Jersey doesn’t get the most out of what it’s got. In the New York Times, Antoinette Martin offers one example of Jersey maximizing its built environment — in this case, by adding solar panels to housing developments and racking up savings for developers and home-buyers alike at developments like New Brunswick’s Riverwatch, pictured above. Hey, you’d be looking for an angle, too, if all you were known for was a lousy highway, a worse basketball team, and two devastatingly handsome green building bloggers.

“PulteGroup, a company based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is not the only builder offering solar-equipped homes in New Jersey,” Martin writes. “But it is among the first to start offering solar units as a standard feature in every house in a development, and to tot up the ways that buyers can earn as much as $30,000 over 15 years. Those earnings will come in four ways, according to Paul Schneier, the president of the company’s metropolitan New York and New Jersey division: savings of more than half on electricity bills, a onetime federal tax rebate of at least $6,000, an annual break on property taxes, and income from the sale of the credits back to utility companies.” Given New Jersey’s unusually high energy prices, those credits are especially valuable properties on the burgeoning online marketplace that has sprung up for energy credits.

Admittedly, Stephen and I are predisposed to like just about everything that Jersey does. But what’s appealing here — besides a reminder of how well cap and trade can work, if only it would be allowed to work — is that we have, after years of negative reminders, a compelling instance of the market finding a way to work. We’re skeptical about solar panels in general and in most instances, and we can only cut so much slack to their use here — there are just too many other efficiency measures, albeit less sexy ones, that deliver more bang for the buck. But the success of the market, here, is in finding a way to make the very real, but sometimes very complicated-seeming, savings from green building both comprehensible and appealing to home-buyers. This, as we keep saying, is how green building will become not just mainstream, but the norm — by being better than conventional brown building, and by being better in a way that people can understand in a basic, dollars-and-sense way. That Jersey’s figuring it out is just icing on the cake. Or the fried hot dog, I guess. Although it would probably taste better on a cake.

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