It will be “weeks, not months” before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is expected to finish work on the state’s energy master plan, agency President Lee Solomon told a gathering of industry stakeholders Thursday.
Solomon said the plan was delayed by the federal response to the nuclear disaster in Japan, as well as a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission action that could affect plans for three new natural gas-fueled power plants.
He spoke at the BPU’s 100th anniversary conference at the Trenton War Memorial, which drew top officials from power companies.
Solomon emphasized the importance of nuclear power, noting that it is the major “carbon-free” power source in the state.
“We are not going to make the ambitious carbon-free targets in the ’08 master plan” or the new plan without nuclear power, Solomon said.
Solomon also emphasized his mandate from Gov. Chris Christie to consider current economic conditions and the need for job growth in the plan, adding the state’s clean-energy program will be considered, as well.
“It’s not our intent to destroy cottage industries in the state of New Jersey,” Solomon said.
He also said the state already has the resources to be self-sufficient in its energy needs, particularly through natural gas, but that it should draw on all available sources to meet its needs.
“The one thing you learn in government is that you don’t rely on any one thing,” Solomon said.
Solomon said the state must decide whether it’s going to stimulate growth or have the economy contract, adding that solar and wind subsidies must undergo cost-benefit analyses.
“If we don’t grow, we’re never going to get out of the mess we’re in,” he said.
Solomon also said he wanted to know about disagreements over energy goals now, so they can be incorporated into the plan.
Solomon led a panel discussion on the state’s energy future with top industry officials, as well as environmental and academic figures.
Increasing the ability to store energy is a central challenge, according to Bill Levis, chief operating officer and president of PSEG Power LLC.
Laurence Downes, CEO and chairman of New Jersey Resources, said the natural gas industry’s experience with increasing its storage capacity could provide lessons.
Downes said industry deregulation in the 1980s forced companies to become more efficient.
Rowan University engineering associate professor Peter Mark Jansson said government support for a rate base rate of return for energy companies was successful, but Solomon warned that he is skeptical of anything that increases costs to ratepayers.
“Those incentives are going to have to come from other sources,” Solomon said.
Steve Morgan, of American Clean Energy, said energy costs have matched economic growth due to certainty over returns, but Solomon said any guarantees suggest costs to ratepayers.
Jansson cautioned the state should also consider the effects on climate change and the long-term future.
Karen Alexander, president of the New Jersey Utilities Association, said the event provided a critical opportunity for utility officials to share their thoughts on the state’s “energy, economic and environment future.”
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