State Assembly Seeks to Expand Definition of Renewable Resources

Tom Johnson | June 11, 2010
Combined heat and power facilities, small hydroelectric plants, and methane gas extracted from landfills would qualify as alternative energy sources under proposed legislation

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 certain new electric-generating stations—especially co-generation facilities—as a renewable resource.

The issue arose after the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee approved a bill that would expand the definition of renewable energy sources. These technologies are eligible to receive funds from the state’s clean energy program and qualify for renewable energy certificates, which earn money for each megawatt of electricity produced.

New Jersey is pursuing aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to develop renewable energy in the state. 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.

Combined Heat and Power

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 electricity plants use biofuel to power their stations, most 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.”

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 combined heat and power plants are not technically 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 renewable energy a reasonable expansion of alternative technologies. “This is a change that needs to occur,” he said.

Methane from Landfills

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

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 as well as 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.