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Save money, help the climate, promote justice (New Jersey Conservation Foundation column)

Alternatives contributors Sal Miranda (R) and Tony Chang install free solar panels on the roof of a low-income household in Pomona, California on October 19, 2023. GRID Alternatives has installed free solar power to more than 29,000 low-income households in underserved communities most affected by pollution, underemployment and climate change. They are the nation’s largest nonprofit clean energy technology organization with operations in California, the mid-Atlantic states, and Colorado. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS)

Do you want to save money on your home’s energy bill? How about helping combat climate change by reducing your carbon footprint? Or ensure that New Jersey communities most affected by environmental pollution receive justice and relief?

If so, the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 may have something to offer you – and your broader community.

A recent panel discussion moderated by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters highlighted the many ways Inflation Reduction Act funding is accessible to low- and middle-income families, along with community groups, schools, churches, nonprofits and local governments.

“This is the largest and boldest investment in our nation’s history – ever – taking action on climate change,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the NJ League of Conservation Voters. The law is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, allowing the United States to meet climate goals while investing in the economy.

The “Affordable Clean Energy Plan” within the IRA works by creating financial incentives for individuals and community organizations to invest in greener choices – whether it’s a family switching to a geothermal home heating system, or a school interested is transitioning to electric school buses.

“The IRA paves the way for a cleaner and more resilient future, and shows that environmental policies can be a win-win for both our wallets and the planet,” Potosnak said.

At the same time, funding through the IRA’s Thriving Communities Program promotes environmental justice for underserved and overburdened communities.

Thriving Communities grants are available for projects aimed at preventing and remediating pollution, improving climate adaptation and resilience, mitigating the urban heat island effect and improving public health. Grants will also help train workers from underserved communities for good-paying jobs in areas related to the environment and climate.

Consumer incentives

Clean energy incentives for consumers come through a combination of tax credits, rebates and lower energy bills resulting from improved efficiency.

Millions of New Jerseyans already qualify for tax credits, making it more affordable to purchase an electric vehicle, install clean energy home heating systems, weatherproof homes and upgrade to high-efficiency appliances. A tax credit is a dollar amount that taxpayers can claim on their tax returns to reduce the income tax they owe or increase their refunds.

Rebates are not yet available in New Jersey, but the system is expected to be operational in late 2024 or early 2025. Rebates differ from tax credits in that they are given immediately, without having to wait for tax returns to be filed.

Here are some of the tax credits currently available under the program:

  • Up to $7,500 for a new electric vehicle, up to $4,000 for a used electric vehicle and up to $1,000 for an electric vehicle charger.
  • A 30 percent tax credit on the cost of installing clean energy systems for homes, such as rooftop solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, battery storage systems and small wind turbines.
  • Up to $3,200 for weatherproof home improvements to save energy. These include an energy audit of the house, new external doors and windows, insulation and an upgraded electrical panel.
  • Up to €2,000 discount on a heat pump boiler.

Would you like to know whether you are eligible for these premiums? Visit https://homes.rewiringamerica.org/calculator and enter information about your zip code, household income and the types of improvement projects you want. The calculator provides detailed information on currently available tax credits and rebates and rebates that are expected to come into effect soon.

Environmental justice

The panel discussion also outlined the ways that IRA programs can help communities reduce pollution and become healthier. Jordana Vanderselt, director of operations for the organization WeAct for Environmental Justice, noted that 40 percent of the IRA’s total benefits should flow to marginalized, underserved or overburdened communities. WeAct has been designated a regional hub for New Jersey and New York.

WeAct does not run projects itself, but acts as a resource to help community groups discover what grants are available through the IRA, how to apply for them, how to design projects, how to develop partnerships with other organizations, how to engage the public and interact with local government, and how to manage grants and projects.

IRA funding is available for many types of initiatives, including creating community gardens in urban areas, planting shade trees in cities to reduce the urban heat island effect and improve air quality, and turning parking lots into “pooling zones” to reduce flooding to decrease. All projects have a workforce development component, with training available to provide community members with the knowledge and experience to find well-paying jobs.

Could your community benefit from Thriving Communities Program funding? Visit www.weact.org/tctac/training for more information.

New Jersey is a state that is severely affected by environmental pollution and climate change. Moreover, not all communities experience the consequences equally. The IRA programs offer New Jersey an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases, lower consumer energy bills, and help marginalized communities get the justice they deserve!

YouTube poster

To watch a recording of the NJ League of Conservation Voters panel discussion, visit https://youtu.be/Hp4POr0rEzg. New Jersey Conservation Foundation is pleased to have co-sponsored the webinar.

And for information about conserving New Jersey’s lands and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at [email protected].