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Lawmakers Push for 80 Percent Renewable Energy by 2050 -- Again

One of the problems with this aggressive goal is that the Christie administration is not likely to back it

wind farm

If legislators get their way, New Jersey will rely on solar panels, wind turbines, and other forms of clean energy to provide most of the electricity the state needs by 2050.

That’s the goal of a bill making its way through the Legislature, which would require 80 percent of the electricity used in the state to come from renewable energy, an aggressive target aimed at helping New Jersey sharply curb emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The legislation (S-1707) passed the Senate Monday, largely with only the Democratic majority supporting it, and now heads to the Assembly for consideration. A similar bill died in that house after winning approval in the Senate in the lame-duck legislative session.

Beyond addressing climate change, clean-energy advocates say the bill is crucial to creating a green economy by moving to less polluting forms of generating electricity. Investing in renewable sources will create three times as many jobs as investing in the same amount in fossil fuels, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This bill will help us revive our renewable-energy programs, creating more jobs and economic activity,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He and other environmentalists have been critical of the Christie administration for failing to implement another law that would promote wind farms off the Jersey coast.

Others said the bill offers perhaps the best way to reduce carbon emissions contributing to climate change.

“As a coastal state, New Jersey is especially susceptible to rising sea levels from global warming,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the sponsor of the bill. “It is critical to reduce our dependence on carbon-based energy sources.’’

If adopted, the bill would constitute a major change in the state’s Energy Master Plan, which aims to increase reliance on electricity produced from natural-gas-fired power plants. Four new gas plants are under construction, have come on line, or planned in New Jersey.

Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ, which aims to change the state’s energy policies, said the Energy Master Plan is moving the state in the wrong direction. “It relies too heavily on natural gas and requires costly and damaging long-lived infrastructure projects, such as the numerous new pipelines proposed throughout the state,’’ Gilbert said.

The 80 percent renewable-energy target is similar to goals established by other states, but is not as ambitious as some. Even so, the bill has its critics, who fear it could raise energy bills in a state that traditionally ranks among the most expensive in the nation for consumers and businesses. The state’s current renewable-energy target is 22.5 percent by 2020.

Not even its proponents expect the measure, strongly backed by many environmentalists and clean-energy advocates, to be signed into law anytime soon. New Jersey’s Director of the Division of Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand last year cautioned that the more-aggressive renewable goal could saddle ratepayers -- who foot a big part of the bill paying for clean energy -- with up to $2.8 billion in additional costs.

Business lobbyists echoed those concerns. Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said his organization supports renewable energy, but added it needs to be affordable, reliable, and resilient as well as “achievable.’’

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