Another No-Show for Much-Delayed Energy Master Plan

Japanese nuclear disaster, struggles to build in-state power plants, are likely behind the latest setback

Don’t bother showing up for Friday’s initial hearing on the state’s Energy Master Plan. It’s been cancelled once again, as the Christie administration struggles to revise it in the wake of nuclear disaster in Japan and its own thwarted efforts to build new power plants in New Jersey.

The much-delayed plan has been anxiously awaited by many in the energy sector, primarily because of speculation over whether it would scale back aggressive renewable energy goals set by the Corzine administration, as well as efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey.

The plan, prepared by the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU), is reportedly under review by the governor’s office, but officials were not shedding much light on why it has been delayed, even taking issue with that characterization.

“It’s not necessarily delayed,” said Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the BPU. “It’s just not ready for release just yet.”

The deferral marks the second time this year the agency has cancelled public hearings on the plan, which had been expected to be released earlier this spring, with hearings scheduled in late March and early April. At that time, the state blamed the postponement on a failure to comply with public notice requirements, but others said the primary reason was the front office was unhappy with the way the document was written.

The latest postponement was expected because BPU President Lee Solomon hinted at it at a conference the agency held in Trenton last month. Solomon said then that two items might complicate the plan: the nuclear disaster in Japan and a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to adopt new rules that could make it more difficult for the state to build new power plants with ratepayer subsidies.

The nuclear issue is particularly critical because two of the four nuclear units in New Jersey have a similar design to the one in Japan, which suffered a partial meltdown. In addition, PSEG Power is mulling building another nuclear unit next to its three operating nuclear stations in Salem County.

At the hearing in Trenton in April, Solomon questioned whether the state would have to scale back its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the nation was going to put a hold on development of new nuclear power plants, which do not contribute to global warming.

Others, however, speculated the events in recent weeks may end up producing a plan that puts a bigger emphasis on cleaner technologies.

“My concern is that it was going to be written in a way that promoted nuclear power and more fossil fuels,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The fact that it is being delayed gives us an opportunity to push for more green power.”

No new public hearings were scheduled by the board.