Looking Back at the Year That Was in New Jersey’s Energy Sector

Tom Johnson | December 22, 2014 | Energy & Environment
As energy prices come down, more and more companies are looking to build natural-gas and oil pipelines across the state’s protected land

natural gas pipeline
For most New Jersey residents, the past year has left them paying less for the energy they need to light and heat their homes, as well as buying cheaper gas at service stations to fuel their vehicles.

They can thank the energy boom across the nation. Exploiting new deposits of natural gas and oil has meant lower prices for consumers and businesses in a state long burdened with some of the highest energy costs in the country.

In New Jersey, however, the growth, has not been without controversy — primarily because of a proliferation of proposed natural gas pipelines and, in one case, a new oil pipeline to deliver the fuel to the state.

In any event, it has been a tumultuous year for the energy sector in New Jersey and it shows no signs of cooling down.

In some instances, the proposed and approved pipelines traverse public lands set aside with taxpayers’ dollars for preservation or cross urban and suburban areas, generating local opposition.

Legislators also have weighed in, complaining that the energy companies pushing for leases on preserved lands are paying far less than what the projects will generate in profits.

This concern also comes at a time when voters in November approved a constitutional amendment dedicating a portion of corporate business taxes to preserve open space, farmland, and historic structures. The proposal, however, funds the effort at a much lower level than in the past.

The increasing reliance on natural gas matches goals identified in the Energy Master Plan adopted by the Christie administration, which views the fuel as a way to reduce energy costs to consumers and businesses and a way to reduce pollution from power plants. It also may produce well-paying construction jobs for the workers who install the pipelines.

But to environmentalists, the spate of new gas pipelines, another one approved just last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, could undermine New Jersey’s efforts to increase the use of cleaner ways of producing electricity from solar and offshore wind.

The state’s Energy Master Plan also proposes building 1,100 megawatts of wind farms off the Jersey coast, but that is far from happening. In the past year, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities twice has rejected a proposal to build a small pilot project nearly three miles off Atlantic City, the only project yet to be submitted to the agency.

New Jersey’s efforts to promote development of new natural gas power plants also were hampered this past year in a series of adverse court decisions over a controversial proposal to give ratepayer subsidies to developers. Nevertheless, two of the three developers are moving forward on their projects. A third project, which did not win subsidies, also is underway.

Clean-energy advocates also are pushing a bill (S-2444) that would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind. The bill is unlikely to be approved anytime soon.

In the past year, the state also set up an Energy Resiliency Bank to help critical facilities, such as drinking-water systems and wastewater treatment plants remain operating — even if the larger power grid fails in storms like Hurricane Sandy. The new bank has received dozens of inquiries, but has yet to make any disbursements.

Whether the new bank will achieve the state’s goal of promoting more distributed energy projects, which provide electricity locally and off the power grid, remains to be seen.

The past year also has seen a rebound in the state’s solar sector, helped, in part, by a bill passed a few years ago that sought to stabilize an industry that had fallen on hard times. After a steep slowdown in solar installations in New Jersey, the sector has begun building an increasing number of solar arrays, some on brownfields and former garbage dumps.