Assembly Redefines Renewable Energy

Despite stiff opposition by environmental groups, the Assembly expands clean energy to include trash incinerators, clean coal plants and other technologies

Most people agree that New Jersey needs to develop cleaner ways of producing electricity to meet the state’s energy needs. But a bill aiming to do so is creating a rift between environmentalists and lawmakers.

Despite heavy lobbying by environmental organizations, the Assembly yesterday easily passed a bill (A-2529) that changes the definition of renewable energy. It is a modification that clean energy advocates say could pave the way for trash incinerators, “clean coal plants,’’ and other facilities to compete for state incentives previously available only to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind projects.

Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex), the sponsor, dismissed the concerns raised by foes, saying the environmentalists do not understand the bill. He said it is designed to promote new and cleaner forms of alternative energy, such as fuel cells, and to bolster the state’s efforts toward energy efficiency.

Congested Power Grid

New Jersey needs to find new and cheaper ways of producing electricity, Chivukula said, noting consumers now pay much more than their counterparts in Pennsylvania because the power grid here is so congested. By some estimates, customers in New Jersey will pay an additional $7 billion on their utility bills over the next few years because of a pricing system used to promote grid reliability.

“We need new baseload generation,’’ Chivukula said, before fellow lawmakers voted 57-16 with four abstentions to move the bill on to the Senate. “We have to come up with new ideas,’’ he said, citing geothermal, and small hydro projects as among the techologies that could lower electricity prices over the long run.

While conceding there were some positive aspects of the bill, such as provisions dealing with energy efficiency, critics said the new definitions detailed in the measure could promote coal and nuclear power plants, garbage incinerators and tire-burning facilities.

The bill defines acceptable alternative technologies as those approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection in consultation with the Board of Public Utilities. These schemes reduce fossil fuel use or greenhouse gas emissions.

Opening the Door

“While this language is permissive, not mandatory, the door for these dirty technologies shouldn’t be open even a crack,” said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey, agreed. “Nuclear, ‘clean coal’ incinerators and many other technologies will be eligible to compete for Class I incentives and credits—incentives that have historically been available only to true, clean, renewable and pollution-free technologies,’’ Jaborska said.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the bill an attack on clean energy. “These types of facilities are not renewable since they add carbon to the atmosphere,’’ he said. “Renewable energy is a type of electrical generation that does not produce carbon while producing energy. ‘’

While the bill moves on to the Senate, its prospects remain uncertain. Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel, opposed the concepts of giving incentives and credits to energy efficiency projects in the same way as solar and wind projects. Such a system, Brand warned in testimony to Chivukula’s committee, could boost already steep gas and electric bills in New Jersey.