More than 100 clean-energy businesses are banding together to push for policies that support innovation and spur growth in the sector.
The New Jersey Business Council for Clean Energy officially launched Tuesday, billing itself as a nonpartisan network of businesses and business leaders backing renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“The perspective we’re looking to bring is the business perspective of those who are actually engaged in this sector,” said Michael Torpey, one of the group’s two co-executive directors. “Our purpose is to be kind of a positive and constructive voice in these debates as they unfold, to educate policy makers and also provide networking opportunities.”
As of Tuesday, the group had 111 members, including construction, energy efficiency and solar firms, among other stakeholders.
The organization is intentionally staking out a nonpartisan position. Torpey was chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. His co-executive director, Rich Gannon, was a senior official in the administration of Democratic Gov. Jim Florio.
Torpey said he thinks he and Gannon each have reputations of putting reason ahead of partisanship.
“We’ve gotten along well together,” Torpey said, “and we can kind of guide this down the middle of the road to avoid the perception of being partisan, because (partisan) is clearly not what we’re intending to be.”
Torpey said the group is in the process of gathering input from its members regarding key issues, such as the state’s SREC, or solar renewable energy certificate, program, which serves as the state’s key solar industry incentive. The program has helped the Garden State become a leader in solar. According to a Brookings Institution study, New Jersey’s clean-energy economy ranks eighth in the nation among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Torpey said one message the group hopes to get out is that clean energy is an industry that creates good-paying jobs.
Economics has been at the forefront of Gov. Chris Christie‘s approach to renewable energy policy. The governor has said he wants to balance the need to support the state’s booming solar industry with the need to lower energy bills, and thus the cost of doing business in New Jersey. While falling panel and component prices have helped the cost of solar drop dramatically in recent months, it still costs more than traditional fossil fuel power. But Torpey urges a broader view.
“We see longer-term that further development of the clean energy sector actually will lead to a reduction in our overall costs,” he said. “That’s something we want to make sure is not lost in the course of the debate.”