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FINE PRINT: This Is What You Can Expect from NJ’s Revised Energy Master Plan

Look for dramatic revisions, given that when governor ordered state officials to overhaul the plan, he emphasized need to shift to clean energy sources

Offshore wind
Credit: wikimedia.org

What it is: The strategic vision for how New Jersey should secure the energy it needs through the first half of the 21st century. It lays out what actions ought to be taken to ensure residents and businesses have a reliable, resilient and affordable system for obtaining the electricity, gas and fuel required to power homes and businesses and run its transportation sector.

What it says: In a plan last updated three years ago by the Christie administration, the focus largely emphasized building out the natural-gas infrastructure in New Jersey. The strategy helped drive down energy costs in the state, according to officials. After the state was hammered by extreme storm events like Hurricane Sandy, the plan also put a premium on making the power grid more resilient and less prone to extended outages that left customers without electricity for a week or more.

What happens now? With a new administration in Trenton, there are dramatic changes in store in how and where the state’s energy is produced and used. Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order this spring directing state officials to overhaul the plan, emphasizing the need to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions while shifting to clean energy sources, such as offshore wind. The governor wants the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to update the plan by next June.

The big challenges: The most daunting task is developing a blueprint for converting the state to 100 percent reliance on clean energy by 2050, one of the most aggressive targets in the nation. The current energy master plan aims to have 22.5 percent of its energy come from renewable energy by 2021. The new plan is expected to propose specific steps over the next 10 years to move toward the new goal. Murphy also wants to state to develop 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030. New Jersey currently has no offshore wind capacity, although an eight-year-old law set a target of having 1,100 megawatts by 2021.

What will remain priorities? Like the current plan, the new blueprint will encourage the state’s utilities to invest in modernizing the power grid, reducing the frequency and extended outages that have plagued customers in recent years, and restoring service more quickly when it is lost. The new plan also will aim to keep utility bills affordable — no small challenge, given the costs to be imposed on ratepayers to replace an aging power grid and to fund the administration’s ambitious clean energy goals. Those costs will run into billions of dollars added on to customers’ bills.

Other changes on tap: Look for a more expansive effort to conserve and have both residential and business customers use less energy, a mandate that will fall on the state’s utilities under a clean energy law the governor also signed this spring. The plan also is projected to try and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, a priority if New Jersey is going to achieve its goals to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions. The state also needs to determine how to increase the ability to store energy, which is crucial to widespread deployment of renewable energy sources, such as solar and offshore wind.

Big battles brewing: Cheap natural gas has been a boon to residents and businesses, driving down the cost of heating homes in winter and making manufacturing more competitive. It also has spurred a rapid expansion of pipelines and power plants using the fuel to produce electricity, despite opposition from environmentalists and many communities. Striking a balance here will be a source of conflict no matter where a new plan stakes a position.

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