NJ’s Power Sector Mirrors Energy Trends Identified in New Federal Report

Tom Johnson | March 11, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Garden State shows increased reliance on solar and natural gas, but offshore wind continues to be a no-show

PSE&G is building its largest grid-supply solar array at the site of the Kinsley landfill.
Most of the new electricity-generating capacity in the nation is the result of a greater reliance on wind, natural gas, and solar energy, according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Those trends are reflected in part in New Jersey, which expects to see two new natural-gas power plants come online this year and also has experienced a continuing rebound in its solar-energy market.

The other big change is the retirement of coal-fired power plants because of tougher environmental rules governing air pollution, mostly in the Appalachian region, according to the agency. A coal plant in South Jersey also is expected to be shut down within two years, but the plan is to convert the facility to natural gas.

All of those developments are in line with the recommendations of the state’s Energy Master Plan — an increased reliance on natural-gas-fired plants and a growing use of solar energy. The plan also calls for the development of offshore wind farms, a goal that is not likely to be achieved anytime soon — much less the 1,100 megawatts by 2020 sought in a bipartisan bill passed by the Legislature.

New Jersey has relatively little electricity generated by onshore wind compared with states like Texas and Kansas, but the federal government considers New Jersey’s offshore wind resources among the best in the nation. But they have not been exploited, in part because the state has not adopted regulations to help developers build wind farms.

Still an energy lobbyist said the trend nationwide is not surprising.

“It’s neither bad or good; it is the only trend out there. What else there,’’ said Fred DeSanti, a lobbyist who represents solar companies in the state.

EIA officials said that transformation is likely to continue across the country. “That’s definitely been a trend in the last few years,’’ said Tim Shears, an energy economist at the agency.

According to the EIA, 91 percent of the additional generating capacity will come from wind (9.8 megawatts), natural gas (6.3 megawatts), and solar (2.2 megawatts). Nuclear power and other renewables will account for the rest of the growth, the agency said.

Natural-gas additions are spread throughout the country, but many of them will be in the Mid-Atlantic region (26 percent) — in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, the EIA said.

In New Jersey, two new natural-gas plants are expected to begin operating in 2015 — one in Newark and the other in West Deptford. The Christie administration has strongly supported the development of such plants, as well as new natural-gas pipelines to increase the state’s reliance on the fuel.

Solar also continues to grow in the state. According to the most recent data compiled for the state Board of Public Utilities, the installed capacity of solar systems in New Jersey is now approximately 1,456 megawatts, with nearly 18 megawatts installed in February.

Some want to see solar grow dramatically. Clean-energy advocates are pushing a bill in the Legislature that would increase the state’s reliance on renewable energy to 80 percent by 2050, a measure unlikely to win approval in the next few years.

The ways in which the state generates its electricity could determine how New Jersey meets aggressive new goals by the Obama administration and its own law to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global climate change.

Nationally, we are heading in the right direction with solar and wind — except in New Jersey,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Gov. Chris Christie has us stuck in the use of fossil fuels of the past.’’