Catapulting New Jersey Into the Clean Energy Future

After years watching Governor Christie's administration pander to the fossil fuel industry, New Jersey will finally enjoy a policy designed to drive investment in energy efficiency, solar, and wind power.
Credit: American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)

“To get New Jersey right, we must both grow our economy and make it fair. Investing in clean energy does both. We can rebuild our middle class, combat climate change, and protect our environment by restoring New Jersey’s place as a leader in the green economy. Plain and simple, we can both do good and do well.”

Gov. Phil Murphy

The New Jersey legislature is about to lay the foundation for the thriving clean energy economy that Governor Murphy envisioned in this campaign promise. After years watching Gov. Christie administration pander to the fossil fuel industry, New Jersey will finally enjoy a policy designed to drive investment in energy efficiency, solar and wind power. Doing so will keep more energy dollars in the state instead of sending them elsewhere to import coal, natural gas and oil; create tens of thousands of high-quality jobs; and reduce pollution to address potentially catastrophic climate change and improve our health.

Championed by Senate President Steven Sweeney, S2314 is one of the most ambitious bills in the country and, if passed, will catapult New Jersey to the front of the pack of leadership states in the clean energy arena. The state is showing that economic prosperity and a healthy environment go hand in hand, and that in the 21st century a thriving economy is built on clean energy, not fossil fuels. This effort is debunking Washington’s patently false line that any effort to protect our environment is a job-killing energy tax. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, this measure is a jobs bill as much as it is a clean energy bill.

Energy Efficiency

The New Jersey clean energy bill will require the state’s utilities to invest in all cost-effective energy efficiency. That means whenever it is cheaper to help customers save energy instead of selling them more electricity or gas, the utilities will do it. As a result, New Jersey will quadruple its energy savings over the next few years, lowering energy bills to the tune of $200 million per year.

Energy efficiency is not only the cheapest energy resource, it is also a great job creator. New Jersey already has over 30,000 people working in energy efficiency; that is 10 times greater than the number of people working in fossil fuel power generation. Those energy efficiency jobs include electricians, plumbers and building contractors helping to upgrade lighting, windows, heating and air-conditioning systems in homes, offices and shops across the state. This bill will easily triple that number of workers, while lowering energy bills.

In addition to those kinds of direct savings, this bill’s expanded investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy will reduce the cost of re-joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), as New Jersey is in the process of doing. The more the state reduces demand for electricity and the cheaper and easier it is to cut its carbon pollutions.

And finally, as New Jersey shifts its investment to energy efficiency and renewable energy, it will keep an ever-increasing portion of its energy dollars in the local economy, instead of sending them out-of-state and out-of-region to import fuels. This will be even more significant as New Jersey begins to decarbonize the transportation and building sectors by electrifying cars and buses and space and water heating.

Renewable Energy

The bill also increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030, putting the state on a path to procure all of its power from clean sources by 2050. This will put New Jersey among the national leaders for the power it gets from solar and wind. It creates a program for community solar deployment so that those in apartments or condos can also share in the rewards of generating electricity from the sun with no fuel costs. And it will overhaul the state’s poorly designed, expensive and volatile solar incentive program, shifting to the approach proven in New York and Massachusetts.

Nuclear power

An important aspect of this clean energy legislation is that it will deliver enough energy efficiency and renewable power to replace the state’s aging, uneconomical nuclear plants when they retire. For the past year, PSEG has been lobbying the state to bailout its struggling nuclear plants at Salem and Hope Creek. NRDC (along with most environmental and consumer groups in New Jersey) vehemently opposed the original bailout, which Christie tried to ram through in the waning days of his administration.

While the current proposal, S2313, is a marked improvement, it fails to limit the timeframe for the subsidy and therefore could prop up uneconomical plants indefinitely. That’s something NRDC cannot support. Still, it is worth noting the improvements: the bill is now structured as a zero-emission credit, making clear that the purpose of the subsidy is to secure the plants’ emissions benefits. The original proposal referred to purported “resilience” benefits of nuclear power, echoing the fact-free claims of the Trump administration (recently re-asserted by First Energy)—a laughable argument for plants that had to shut down during Superstorm Sandy, and one which FERC has now thoroughly debunked. The legislation also requires plant owners to develop a transition plan within two years, so that when the plants do close, employees are either retained for decommissioning or other positions in the company, or they receive retraining or severance. A transition plan is also essential to the communities that rely on the plants for a substantial portion of their tax base, because they will need to attract new businesses. Finally, the bill requires a study of best practices for management of nuclear waste, in light of calls for the state to condition any subsidy on a commitment to expedite the transfer of spent fuel rods to safer dry cask storage.

Despite such mandated preparation for the closure of the plants, and in stark contrast to New York and Illinois, where nuclear subsidies sunset, the New Jersey statute fails to limit the timeframe for its subsidy program. There is no good public policy reason for this omission. As the Governor and the Board of Public Utilities implement this program, they should make sure that New Jersey customers do not subsidize uneconomical nuclear plants indefinitely.

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The controversy over the nuclear measure shouldn’t distract lawmakers and citizens from the important strides state leaders are making by charting this new course for clean energy. This is a critical opportunity for leaders in Trenton to show naysayers in Washington that economic prosperity and a healthy environment go hand in hand, and that in the 21st century a thriving economy is built on clean energy, not fossil fuels.

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