State Lawmakers Try Again to Set Aggressive Renewable Energy Targets

Proposed bill has been considered before, but advocates say it’s key to cutting down on greenhouse gases

PSE&G is building its largest grid-supply solar array at the site of the Kinsley landfill.
Legislators are preparing to take another crack at dramatically ramping up how much of the state’s electricity comes from renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.

In a hearing before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Monday, lawmakers will consider a bill (S-2444) to require 80 percent of the electricity used by residents and businesses to come from renewable sources.

The draft, kicking around in the Legislature for months, is viewed by advocates as crucial to meeting the state’s ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global climate change.

Critics, however, say it will only increase energy bills in a state already saddled with some of the nation’s highest costs for electricity. Because of those concerns, the bill is not likely to be passed in this session, but advocates hope to lay the groundwork to have it approved in the next few years.

Like many other states, New Jersey has adopted a so-called renewable energy portfolio, which requires electricity to be generated from cleaner sources than conventional fossil fuel power plants. By 2020, 22.5 percent of the electricity should come from renewable energy, according to the state’s Energy Master Plan.

The bill, as currently drafted, sets some high targets, particularly having 14 percent of the state’s electricity come from solar by 2030. The current rate from solar is in the low single digits.

“It is way too much,’’ said Fred DeSanti, a lobbyist who advocates for several renewable energy companies “You can’t do it.’’

Lyle Rawlings, the head of a coalition pushing for the bill, said its members were excited about the measure coming up once again before the committee, but expressed concern about unseen amendments to the legislation. “It has most of what we want,’’ said Rawlings, the head of a solar firm based in New Jersey.

To meet the bill’s aggressive solar goals, Rawlings acknowledged that New Jersey has to bring the cost of solar down. A solar installation here costs four times more than one in New York state.

The other big unresolved issue is that both the bill and the Energy Master Plan require the development of offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast. That is yet to happen, nor is it likely to happen anytime soon. The Energy Master Plan calls for building 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind by 2020. No project has yet to be approved.

Offshore wind has been delayed because of the Christie administration’s failure to adopt regulations that would provide an incentive — paid by utility customers — to help fund those projects. That inaction has drawn criticism from Democrats and clean energy advocates, all of whom have backed offshore wind.

“This bill, in practical terms, would require offshore wind,’’ Rawlings said. According to federal officials, New Jersey has what may be the best potential of states along the Eastern Seaboard to harness wind to produce electricity.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the legislation is important because when older conventional power plans are retired, they need to be replaced with electricity from renewable energy.

“Of all the 4,000 bills in the Legislature, this is the most important out there,’’ Tittel said, calling it critical to achieving the state’s greenhouse gas emissions goals.