Aggressive Renewable-Energy Bill Voted Out of State Senate Committee

Measure could put NJ back in pole position for clean energy, but governor not likely to approve

wind turbine
In a bid to vault New Jersey back into a leadership role in clean energy, a Senate committee yesterday approved a bill that would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind by 2050.

The legislation (S-2444) significantly ramps up the state’s goal for shifting from fuels that contribute to global climate change and pollution to cleaner ways of producing electricity. Currently, the state has set a target of 22.5 percent of renewables by 2020.

If the bill wins approval, which even proponents say is unlikely under the Christie administration, it would put New Jersey among those states most heavily rely on renewable energy.

The question critics have is at what cost to utility customers, who already are burdened by some of the highest electricity costs in the nation. Those same objections were raised last fall when the bill first came up for discussion in the committee. A similar bill is pending in the Assembly.

New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand said the bill could boost ratepayer exposure to higher costs by $2.8 billion, which would be on top of the $5 billion other laws and programs could impose through 2030.

“We have a lot of competing interests for a finite amount of dollars,’’ Brand told the committee, citing recent initiatives to promote energy efficiency, harden the state’s power grid, and modernize the distribution system to reduce power outages during extreme storms. Increased spending on renewables could jeopardize those efforts, Brand said in a presentation to the panel.

Beyond concerns about the cost of raising renewable energy targets, some also have questioned the impact of doing so — given the intermittent nature of solar and wind (The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.) Advocates, however, said the energy sector is making rapid advancements in technologies like storage batteries, which have the potential to store energy from renewable sources and use it when needed.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the bill and its prime sponsor, argued New Jersey should do as much as possible to promote renewable energy. “We used to be number two (in the nation). Now, we’re eight or nine—that’s not so good,’’ he said.

Lyle Rawlings, owner of a solar firm in Flemington, noted there are a number of states already ahead of New Jersey. “By no means is it too ambitious,’’ said Rawling, who along with a broad coalition he created was a prime mover in developing the bill.