Energy Master Plan Delayed Yet Again

Tom Johnson | March 18, 2011 | Energy & Environment
Some suggest that holdup is due to administration's unhappiness with the plan as it stands

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the state’s Energy Master Plan (EMP) to be unveiled.

The plan, under revision by the Christie administration for more than half a year, is once again being delayed, this time ostensibly because the state failed to follow public notice requirements associated with holding hearings on the document, according to Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). The public notice requirement fell three days short of the required 60 days, said Reinert.

Those familiar with the evolving plan, which currently sets aggressive goals to increase the use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, say the more pressing reason for the delay is that the front office was unhappy with the revised plan submitted to it by the BPU.

‘That doesn’t sound right,” said Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. “How can the public comment when they haven’t even seen the plan?”

So the agency is in the process of canceling hearings, which had been scheduled to begin a week from Tuesday. Now, the plan is not expected to be released until mid-April, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Uncertain Outcome

What the latest delay means for the current plan, and just how much it will change, remains uncertain. The plan is eagerly awaited by the state’s rapidly growing solar industry sector, which fears the administration may scale back some of the aggressive targets set by the plan and legislation promoting the technology.

The Sierra Club yesterday also expressed concern about the delay in the release of the plan, saying the postponement signals that the document will be weakened further.

“This delay is more about the governor’s office making sure that the energy master plan conforms with the governor’s national political interests than the energy interests of New Jerseyans,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the club. He said the delay is part of a pattern by the governor, along with withdrawing from a greenhouse gas emission lawsuit to bolster his credentials with the conservative wing of the Republican party.

Part of the debate revolves around plug-in electric vehicles. The administration is divided over whether New Jersey should start building the infrastructure to allow motorists to charge their cars at home and at designated locations where they spend some time, such as malls and workplaces.

Chivukula and others also are questioning whether the document is being revised in the wake of the nuclear power station crisis in Japan, where a number of reactors are in danger of melting down. New Jersey has four nuclear reactors in the state, but one, Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, is scheduled to close down in nine years under a deal worked out by the Christie administration.

Public Service Enterprise Group, which operates three nuclear units in Salem County, is also thinking about adding a fourth there, which is currently undergoing an early site assessment. The company, however, appears in no hurry to make a decision as to whether to add one or more units there.

Even if the administration does make big changes in the plan, it will have to convince lawmakers to go along with them. In the past two years, the legislature has repeatedly passed bills to promote both solar power and wind power, sometimes with the backing of the Republican administration.