How Will the GOP Sweep Affect Clean Energy in New Jersey?

Tom Johnson | November 6, 2014 | Energy & Environment, Politics
A Republican-controlled Congress could mean the rollback of EPA regulations, reduced subsidies for solar and wind

U.S. Capitol
Will the congressional elections Tuesday giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress affect New Jersey’s efforts to promote clean energy and energy-efficiency programs?

That is a question clean-energy advocates in New Jersey are asking in the wake of the Republican sweep, which raises concerns over whether lucrative tax credits to promote solar and wind energy will be renewed.

The biggest threat, perhaps, is to the Obama administration’s efforts to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, a regulatory action taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is sure to come under fire from a new GOP-controlled Congress.

In New Jersey, those regulations pose less of a threat than in other states, primarily because of its reliance on nuclear power, which produces no global-warming emissions, and its lesser dependence on coal plants to generate the electricity to keep the lights on for consumers and businesses.

But the state also has embraced aggressive goals to promote renewable energy, particularly solar and wind. Those targets will be tougher to achieve unless existing federal tax incentives are renewed by the newly elected Congress.

For instance, a 30 percent investment tax credit awarded to solar projects is scheduled to expire in 2016, according to Fred DeSanti, who represents both the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition and the Alliance for Solar Choice.

“I think they are not going to abandon on a national level,’’ he said. New Jersey’s solar market is one of the most successful in the country, propelled by incentives that give developers cash awards for the electricity they produce.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, disagreed. “I think it will have a chilling effect on the tax credits,’’ he said, not only referring to solar incentives, but also to those available for offshore wind. New Jersey has proposed building 1,110 megawatts of offshore wind capacity — a goal many deem implausible at this point.

“Clearly, last night was a rough night for the energy and environment,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, an organization that had lobbied for clean energy programs in the state. Still, he was optimistic that the Republican-controlled Congress would not eliminate the lucrative tax incentives that help propel the development of solar, wind, and other renewable-energy technologies.

“Even though the Tea Party is against clean energy, senators from swing states will be amenable to clean energy,’’ O’Malley predicted.

In New Jersey, the state hopes to have 22.5 percent of its electricity produced by renewable sources by 2020. In the Legislature, there is a bill pending that would ramp up that requirement to 80 percent by 2050, a goal few deem realistic.

According to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C., the new Congress will try to roll back investments in renewable energy, as well as promoting other fossil-fuel initiatives.

“Americans want to see a balance between conservation and development of America’s public lands and waters, but that balance may tip if the new Congress is able to put its thumb on the scales with costly giveaways of taxpayer-owned resources,’’ said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the center and director of the Public Lands Project.

Others disagreed.

“I’m not sure what is going to happen is going to have any effect in New Jersey,’’ said Mike Proto, communications director for Americans for Prosperity in the state. He noted a lot depends on regulations that will be adopted by the EPA.

“At the end of the day, it will cost ratepayers, businesses and jobs,” Proto said.