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Draft Legislation Would Bump Up New Jersey’s Renewable-Energy Goals

Backers say proposed bill would give solar power and wind power a much-needed boost in state

solar array

By 2050, 80 percent of the electricity used in New Jersey should be generated by renewable energy, according to a bill being drafted by lawmakers.

The proposal, expected to be introduced as early as Monday, has been kicking around for months and would dramatically increase New Jersey’s reliance on cleaner sources of energy, such as solar and wind power.

While many details of the bill remain unknown, its backers say it would provide a much-needed boost to renewable energy in New Jersey, which already has a goal of having 22.5 percent of its electricity come from such sources by 2020.

Just how many teeth the yet-to-be seen bill has to enforce the proposed ramping up of the renewable energy targets remain to be seen, according to those who have advocated such an approach.

“We’re excited,’’ said Lyle Rawlings, president and CEO of Advanced Solar Products, a Flemington company specializing in solar installations. “We want to see what the bill contains. If there are still requirements then and appropriate milestones along the way, then it will have teeth,’’ referring to a draft that originally was proposed.

Rawlings and a coalition he helped found has been pushing for a more aggressive renewable energy target for months, a topic of extensive discussions among various stakeholders set up by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

Not everyone likes the proposal, mostly business interests who question the higher cost of renewable energy, especially given the historically low prices of natural gas, which has lowered the cost of both electricity and gas for customers. Much of the cost of promoting renewable energy is eventually passed on to consumers on their utility bills.

“Don’t they care about us who have to pay the bills?’’ asked Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey. “It just doesn’t work. There is no capacity to store this energy.’’

Whether the Christie administration will support the tougher renewable energy requirements is unclear. A prior Energy Master Plan adopted by the former Corzine administration set a target of New Jersey using 30 percent renewable energy by 2020, but the new plan adopted by Christie kept a legislatively mandated 22.5 percent goal.

Rawlings remained hopeful -- even though in his talks with the Christie administration about the proposal he has not got any specific response.

“The solar industry has lost a lot over the jobs over the last two years,’’ he said. “We’ve lost thousands of jobs. The more specifics in this bill the quicker we can get these jobs back. We think some change is necessary.’’

New Jersey’s solar industry has been rattled by a boom-and-bust cycle. At one time, the state was second to only California in the number of solar installations, but that ranking fell when the solar market collapsed, primarily due to an overbuilding of solar systems. It has since somewhat recovered, but not to the extent of the boom days of the sector.

It also is questionable how successful New Jersey will be in developing offshore wind farms. The state wants to build at least 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind along the Jersey coast by 2020, but no project has yet been approved. More than four years after Christie signed a bill promoting offshore wind development, key rules to make those projects viable have yet to be developed by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

Still, some environmentalists back the new proposal.

“Setting the goals is important, but we have to have a mechanism to get there,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He said the pending bill could be the most important measure to address the state’s ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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