Gasoline-burning automobiles emit pollutants that contribute to the warming of the planet, according to scientists and environmentalists. As a result, polar ice caps are melting, causing the oceans to rise and flooding coastal communities. Speakers at the Sept. 26 Clean and Sustainable Energy Summit at Montclair State University warned that New Jersey is already experiencing the effects of climate change and called on policymakers to pursue actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Bob Gordon, a commissioner on the state Board of Public Utilities, said New Jersey is one of the fastest-warming states in the nation.
“New Jersey is ground zero in the battle to protect our planet and that is why Gov. Phil Murphy has made clean energy a cornerstone of his administration,” Gordon said. “The draft energy master plan calls for maximizing energy, reducing peak demand, reducing emissions and energy use in the building sector, supporting environmental justice communities, fostering an innovation economy through workforce development and other incentives.”
At the same time, the BPU must remain cognizant of the effects on ratepayers, Gordon added.
Robert Kettig is the bureau chief for energy, climate change and sustainability at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. He focuses on clean energy policy transition in New Jersey, in accordance with Murphy’s goal of moving the state to 100 percent renewable clean energy by 2050.
“As we are moving forward with these initiatives, Governor Murphy’s mandates, this is a cooperative effort among public and private [sectors], and we are very engaged with academic institutions and Montclair State University,” Kettig said. “It is pretty clear to me as an environmental regulator and being more focused on the emissions driver and the emissions reductions, the only way to get to where we need to get to is through a holistic approach. We need to hear voices from all that incorporates social, economic, technical, and environmental concerns.”
Kettig summarized the two major upcoming regulatory mandates.
The Global Warming Response Act requires statewide greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions from electricity generated outside the state but consumed in the state, to be reduced to the 1990 level or below by the year 2020, and to be reduced to 80 percent below the 2006 level by 2050, Kettig said. New Jersey has already met the 2020 goal.
Murphy signed into law the Updated Global Warming Response Act (Senate Bill 3207) in July 2019, which provides specific timeframes for meeting the greenhouse gas reduction mandates that were defined in the 2007 act, Kettig said.
“How do we get there?” Kettig asked. “When you set a goal for the future, how do we get there is just as important as setting the goal.” Part of the answer, he said, entails electrifying transportation and de-carbonizing electric generation.
“The department is working with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in developing an energy master plan,” Kettig said. “We have a three-step approach. The draft energy plan came out in June. We are engaged in doing energy master planning with the Board of Public Utilities and in consultation with the Rocky Mountain Institute.”
“As we electrify as much as we can in an effort to de-carbonize, there is clearly infrastructure improvements and dynamic changes to be made in our distribution and transmission system,” he said.
Eric Benson of Clean Water Action implored Murphy to impose a moratorium on fossil fuel projects.
“Tell the fossil fuel industry that if they build, it is at your own risk,” Benson said. “What does this have to do with making clean energy affordable and accessible?”
Benson advocated for investing in electrification of New Jersey Transit, contending that doing so would have an immediate impact on low-income neighborhoods.
Barbara Blumenthal is the research director at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. She explained the Energy Efficient Programs are growing and expanding.
“Your bills are going up,” Blumenthal said. “You have a problem. What determines if rates increase or decrease?”
“Sound policies can keep energy costs low,” Blumenthal said. “Even with low-cost natural gas, we can save money by shifting to renewable resources. That is exciting. We are not picking winners. What can we do to take steps so that we are not betting on any one view of the future? We have to think about policy differently.”
Action off the coast
Not all of the initiatives will play out on dry land. Danish company Ørsted submitted an application for its Ocean Wind project to the Board of Public Utilities in December 2018 to develop the state’s first offshore wind farm 15 miles from the Atlantic City beach. It should be up and running by 2024.
“New Jersey is leading the way in offshore wind,” Gordon said. “We are way ahead with offshore wind. We want this offshore wind initiative. We expect to see more than 20 offshore wind projects built in the Mid-Atlantic. We have a commitment for a factory. New Jersey has excellent wind resources, a shallow continental shelf, and 130 miles of coastline. We believe our offshore wind program will be instrumental in helping to combat climate change.”
Sy Oytan, a sector lead offshore wind economic transformation for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, explained that New Jersey is part of the East Coast wind belt. New Jersey has talent with a great educated workforce and a place for every employee, he said.
“When you add renewable energy to your energy mix, offshore wind is making a big leap into renewable energy,” Oytan said. “We want to be a hub in the supply chain and in the research and development.”
Sara Bluhm of the Clean Energy Division at the BPU, said the agency is building its wind energy master plan.
“We have focused on environmental protection as we are developing this industry,” Bluhm said. “Where is the state going in the next 10 years as we chart our path toward clean energy? There is a lot of inter-agency work happening as we try to move our industry forward.”
Kris Ohleth is a senior stakeholder relations manager in the U.S. Offshore Wind Division for Ørsted. The company has built 26 offshore wind farms, off the coasts of Northern Europe, Taiwan, and in the United States from Massachusetts to Virginia.
“We are not here to build a wind farm and flip it. We are investing in wind energy,” Ohleth said. “I think with our demonstrated experience and our tangible success we have had around the world, we are humbled yet recognize it is a critical responsibility.”
Doug O’Malley, the director of Environmental New Jersey Research & Policy Center, lamented that global warming is only getting worse.
“It is important to make this industry happen as Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation seeking clean renewable energy by 2030,” O’Malley said.
“This is not the first year of discussions on offshore wind. In 2005, Acting Gov. Dick Codey convened a blue-ribbon commission. Barely a month ago, Ørsted held information sessions in Cape May and Atlantic counties. We are talking about trade-offs because we have a vibrant fishing economy. The ocean is a big place and it is a busy place.”