Stung by hefty increases in energy costs tied to a new program to help New Jersey combat global warming, some of the state’s largest businesses have convinced regulators to see if the system could be made more business-friendly.
The state Board of Public Utilities voted in February to convene a proceeding to see if there is a way to ease the financial impact of the program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Under the year-old program, New Jersey and other Northeast states impose a surcharge on energy suppliers for emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases. The costs incurred by utilities and suppliers are passed on to ratepayers.
The funds collected are distributed back to the states, which use the money for a wide range of purposes, including energy conservation, promotion of renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power, and even things such as tree plantings.
The petition to review the financial impact of the program was submitted yesterday by the New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition, a group comprised of pharmaceutical companies, large retail stores and manufacturing plants. The group has been among the more outspoken in protesting the steep rise in energy costs since New Jersey broke up its gas and electric monopolies.
Steve Goldenberg, an attorney representing the coalition, said the greenhouse initiative adds to the already high costs of energy for businesses in New Jersey, which are among the highest in the nation.
“We’re not talking about nickels and dimes here. For some of these guys, it amounts to tens of thousands of dollars a year and for some hundreds of thousands of dollars. That, on top of other things, makes for a very difficult business climate."
The coalition has proposed various alternatives to ease the impact of the program. They include an “opt-out provision as long as the company meets certain criteria; a phase-out provision to decrease the surcharge as consumption increases; and a hard cap to limit costs.
The bid to avert these costs is likely to be opposed by advocates of the program, who argue it will help New Jersey achieve aggressive goals to reduce energy consumption, avoid producing greenhouse gases and promote cleaner sources of electricity.
“Our feeling is everybody should pay for programs that reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency, including businesses, because everyone benefits from a cleaner environment," said Matt Elliott, energy advocate for Environment New Jersey.