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Summer Reading Series: Renewables

What defines a renewable resource? When it comes to co-generation facilities, the state and environmentalists part ways. Dig into the definitions with this special editorial package.

The state is trying to promote alternative technologies to help meet New Jersey’s energy needs, but the effort is being criticized by some environmentalists who object to classifying co-generation facilities as renewable resources.

The issue arose after the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee OK’d a bill that would expand the definition of technologies that would be viewed as renewable energy sources. That, in turn would make them eligible to receive funds from the state’s clean energy program and qualify them for renewable energy certificates, which earn the generator money for each megawatt of electricity produced.

New Jersey is pursuing aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to develop renewable. It wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2006 levels by 2050 and wants 30 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources, primarily wind and solar.

The dispute involves allowing combined heat and power facilities, which generate electricity and heat simultaneously, to qualify for money raised from the state’s societal benefits charge and renewable certificates. Although some combined heat and plants use biofuel to power their stations, most conventional facilities use natural gas.

“Combined heat and power is an efficiency measure; it’s not a renewable. It’s a fossil fuel. It’s making a mockery out of the program,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “Calling a fossil fuel an alternative technology not only undermines environmental protections, but real green power programs as well,’’ he said.

Representatives from the state Board of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection expressed reservations as well. BPU’s Ombudsman Joseph Sullivan told the panel that technically, combined heat and power plants are not renewable energy. “It should stand on its own value as an energy resource,’’ he said.

But Fred DeSanti, managing director of MC2 Public Affairs, defended the move. “The most important thing is we are opening the door to alternative technologies,’’ said DeSanti, who represents some combined heat and power plant developers. These technologies will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy costs and energy consumption, DeSanti said.

Ruben Brown, president of the E Cubed Company, a provider of strategic energy services, also backed the effort. He called the new definitions of various class I and class II renewables a reasonable expansion of alternative energy technologies. “This is a change that needs to occur,’’ he said.

Besides dealing with combined heat and power plants, the bill expands the definition to include small hydro plants and the extraction of methane gas from landfills to generate electricity as among the sources of renewable energy.

Despite its aggressive clean energy targets, funding for such programs has been dramatically reduced due to the state’s budget problems. The Christie administration has diverted more than $400 million in funds from the state’s clean energy programs, a situation that has curtailed various initiatives to promote solar projects and energy efficiency programs.

While the state has sought to promote more combined heat and power plants, $158 million in money set aside for that purpose was also diverted by the Christie administration. It is unclear whether the Democratic-controlled legislature will go along with those cuts or endorse them when lawmakers adopt a state budget within the next couple of weeks.

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