Calling the current plan unreasonable “pie-in-the-sky sop” to special interests, Gov. Chris Christie announced Tuesday long-awaited revisions to the state’s energy master plan, promising the new benchmarks would cut energy costs and lead to economic growth and more jobs, but a solar association chief said the revisions mark a step backward for New Jersey.
The plan would lower the state’s renewable energy target to 22.5 percent by 2021. That version of the plan, which came during the Jon S. Corzine years, set the renewable energy goal to 30 percent in 2020, but “30 percent was never achievable,” Christie said today.
But Dennis Wilson, president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industry Association, said the governor was abandoning attainable goals.
“The governor is backing away from commitments for renewable energy and energy efficiency that the state was on track to meet,” Wilson said. “So it’s really a retrenchment from a clean-energy economy in New Jersey. … This is only going to move the focus of national companies to other states.”
Christie said the plan would provide relief from the current rates, which are among the highest in the country, and make them comparable to costs elsewhere in the region. It would do so by relying on a variety of energy sources, including nuclear power, new natural gas-fired plants and renewable sources. He repeated the state’s plan to build three natural-gas-fired plants under the controversial Long-Term Capacity pilot program, despite a ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that put the program’s future in jeopardy.
The plan would promote large solar generation projects on brownfield sites and landfills, Christie said, and he expects “New Jersey is going to be first in the water” in offshore wind generation.
The plan includes efforts to increase energy efficiency at state buildings, including the Statehouse. Christie pointed to efforts at the Empire State Building to reduce energy consumption by 38 percent, and said a retrofit of New Jersey’s public buildings would ease pressure on the grid.
The governor said a conversation with David M. Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell International, led him to believe the state had failed to use energy-conservation technology available from companies like Morris Township-based Honeywell.
The battle over LCAPP
Anne Hoskins, senior vice president of public affairs and sustainability at Public Service Enterprise Group, in Newark, said in a written statement that the governor was correct to emphasize a variety of energy sources.
But Hoskins said PSEG supports “having market signals guide the timing and nature of generation investment.” PSEG has been a vocal critic of LCAPP, arguing it is unnecessary because current market mechanisms are sufficient to spur the construction of new generation capacity, if needed.
At the Christie conference, Board of Public Utilities President Lee Solomon said the state would reach the numerical goal of reducing energy use by 2020, but is unlikely to meet the percentage goal of a 20 percent reduction. He also said the plan proposes new ways of financing clean-energy projects, including long-term loans to be funded through the state Economic Development Authority.
Christie said while his administration is concerned about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas in Pennsylvania, he is not concerned about the long-term supply of natural gas.
The plan doesn’t include a solar alternate compliance payment schedule, which could have a large effect on the state’s solar industry. The current schedule ends in 2016.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said he anticipates the plan will hurt small solar and contracting companies by eliminating the rebate program for small solar projects and high-efficiency furnaces.
“He’s also affecting a lot of jobs” in the solar and other renewable industries, Tittel said, and favors out-of-state conglomerates over small in-state companies.
Wilson also was critical of the governor’s plan to reduce or phase out the societal benefits charge, a fee attached to power bills in the state that helps fund the state’s Clean Energy Program and other programs. He said he hopes the Legislature stops the plan, and he believes the public would support keeping the state’s current energy policies intact.
Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, praised the governor’s proposals, saying the previous version of the master plan “didn’t take into consideration what it would cost to the business community.”