Pros and cons of speeding up Energy Master Plan timeline

Martin Daks//March 20, 2023

Pros and cons of speeding up Energy Master Plan timeline

Martin Daks//March 20, 2023

In mid-February, Gov. Phil Murphy accelerated the timeline for his already ambitious “green” agenda, which called for targets like requiring 100% of New Jersey electricity to come from carbon-neutral generation sources by 2050, moving the goalpost up by 15 years to Jan.1, 2035. The action was praised by environmental groups and some unions, but panned by a number of business community organizations. While Murphy’s plans have some support, they also face some stiff opposition.

“What is the magic date for 100% renewable energy?” wondered New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President, Government Relations Michael Egenton. “Moving up the date like this [from 2050 to 2025] could very well hike the tab — someone will pay for it. There’s only so much federal infrastructure funds, and at the end of the day, we’re all ratepayers, and we’ll pick up the tab in our utility bills.”

He said the chamber and its members support renewable energy, but also believe that locally sourced nuclear and natural gas can play a role, as well. “We’d like to see a diversified energy portfolio, which will also generate jobs here,” said Egenton. “Remember, look at places like California and Germany [which rushed into wind and solar] and now have rolling blackouts. Our members are telling us there could be huge challenges in meeting a 2035 deadline.”

On the other hand, Anjuli Ramos-Busot, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, welcomed the governor’s announcement. “This accelerated new goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 bumps up the timeline for achieving a clean energy transition by 15 years and takes a significant and needed step to meet the urgency of the climate crisis,” Ramos-Busot said. “The New Jersey Sierra Club applauds Gov. Murphy for his decision to meet the moment and for working to provide a healthier and more affordable future for N.J. families. We now hope to see 100% clean energy by 2035 be codified in statute in the strongest possible way, and we look forward to working with the administration, the DEP and the BPU to make this a reality for New Jerseyans.”

Wayne DeAngelo, IBEW Local 269 President

The new timeline got measured support from IBEW Local 269 President Wayne DeAngelo, who also serves in the state Assembly. “Hopefully, speeding up the timetable will place more renewable energy and efficiency projects in the que,” said the Democrat, who represents the 14th District. “But just because someone wants something done faster does not necessarily mean it will be done faster. A job that takes 100 hours to do, for example, cannot always be done in one hour just because you assigned 100 people to it. As we consider Gov. Murphy’s plans, we have to be sure that opportunities for new energy efficiency projects are spread across the state. I support his aggressive program, but at the same time we cannot rush things.”

Ray Cantor, NJBIA’s deputy chief government affairs officer

But some organizations, like the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, were not so thrilled. “We’re concerned that it will be extremely expensive, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the effect of this pronouncement on the state’s energy system,” said Ray Cantor, NJBIA’s deputy chief government affairs officer. “It’s not realistic to expect to meet the standards by 2050, let alone by 2035.”

About 45% of the state’s current energy comes from natural gas, 7% from wind, “and currently, basically nothing comes from solar,” he added. “Also, wind and solar are intermittent provider sources, so if we go to electric cars and buildings, where does the power come from? The electrons just do not add up.”

He said the NJBIA will raise these and other issues. “We will participate in stakeholder hearings, and the NJBIA is planning to come out with alternative plans to decarbonize the energy system — but ours will be workable, affordable, reliable and realistic.”

Cantor noted that the organization’s members agree, in principle, with clean energy goals, “But the ones that the governor has proposed do not seem to be realistic. They seem to be mandates that will be very costly. We’d like to see other sources, like hydrogen, natural gas, and diesel, considered.”

As a counterweight, Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho, R-24th District, introduced legislation that he says would ensure that the Garden State will be powered by reliable, diverse, and affordable energy sources. Oroho called Senate Bill 3684 (which has been referred to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee) a common-sense alternative to what he describes as Murphy’s “extreme green energy plan,” that he believes will make New Jerseyans dependent on the most unreliable and expensive sources of energy.

Mark Longo, director, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative 825

And a representative for the labor-industry cooperative ELEC825 also panned Murphy’s plan. “What started as laudable has quickly spiraled into the ludicrous when it comes to the governor’s Energy Master Plan and related policies,” said Mark Longo, director, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative 825. “In the five years since adoption, we have built zero megawatts of offshore wind, zero megawatts of utility-scale solar and zero megawatts of battery backup … yet we expect to be 100% renewable by 2035? Common sense dictates otherwise.“

He noted that “70% of New Jersey homes are heated using gas, and 90% of our electricity comes from nuclear and natural gas, yet we are going to cut off our gas supply? These policies will not only negatively impact the trades but will negatively impact every resident. When looking through the details of achieving these goals, the only option for the State of New Jersey is to export billions in tax dollars to subsidize building out of state. This will result in losing direct union jobs and related economic benefits from manufacturing and suppliers. Power plant and pipeline projects result in billions in economic benefit that will now not be realized.”

From the construction trades perspective, he added, “We continue wondering what exactly a ‘green job’ is for an operating engineer? Our members have been installing solar and building offshore drilling platforms for decades. So from our standpoint the work is the same despite trying to claim it is something else. However, when these are compared to a natural gas pipeline for example, the total amount of man-hours leans heavily toward pipeline work. What could have been a true boon for the state of New Jersey has been bungled.”

Chris Dailey, vice president, Construction Services Manager at GEI Consultants

Some businesses, though, saw positives and negatives in the new timetable. “It’s a transformative step, and could really push work to our doorstep” according to Chris Dailey, vice president, Construction Services Manager at GEI Consultants, which provides geotechnical, environmental, water resources, civil design and construction services. I think Gov. Murphy’s motive in accelerating the timeline involves pushing ‘green’ projects ahead and getting more federal funding from initiatives like the Infrastructure Act. So it is a pretty ambitious goal, but there may be a lot of hurdles.”

GEI already does a “fair amount of solar projects in New Jersey, although more is being done in some other states,” he added. “Among our utility company clients, for example, we’ve seen a steady uptick in projects involving substations – building new ones and upgrading existing ones – in addition to transmission line work.”

Right now, he added, “Over 75% of New Jersey residents rely on natural gas for heating; the infrastructure is well-established. But if you try to go to solar, that power source is only good about 12 hours a day. We’re helping with work on alternatives like hydrogen generation and fuel cells, [where hydrogen fuel combines with oxygen from the air through a fuel cell, creating electricity and water through an electrochemical process] to produce electricity. It’s important to try to reduce society’s fossil fuel and other non-renewable energy sources, but if we go to, say, 100% electric vehicles, some people may have trouble affording one. I think there are a lot of things than can be done to make gas and other sources more efficient, and those solutions should also be explored.”