BPU Wants to Know What Public Thinks of Updated Energy Master Plan for NJ

Proposal has backers and detractors; three public hearings to be held in August

Public Service Electric & Gas is building a 10.14-megawatt solar farm at a former landfill in Bordentown.
The state’s Energy Master Plan may be in for some adjustments.

In a notice put out by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities late last week, the agency said it will hold three public hearings in August seeking comments on updates to the plan, a blueprint aimed at ensuring that the state has reliable, safe, clean, and sufficient energy for businesses and residents.

The current plan, adopted by the Christie administration in 2011, lays out ambitious targets for replacing conventional ways of producing electricity with cleaner technologies, such as solar and wind, by 2020. But critics say the state is lagging behind many of those goals, particularly developing offshore wind farms along the coast of New Jersey and reducing energy consumption.

In other areas, the administration is making progress, such as promoting greater use of natural gas in the state. That, too, is not without controversy; a profusion of pipeline projects have been proposed, many of which cross land previously set aside with taxpayers’ dollars to preserve open space and farmland.

New Jersey has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, but the state plan aims to lower bills for consumers, a goal it has partially achieved mostly because of large supplies of cheap natural gas discovered in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. For people who rely on the fuel to heat their homes in the winter, this has led to sharply lower bills.

Since the plan was adopted in 2011, the state’s priorities in the energy sector also have changed, due to the widespread power outages that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. These problems spurred the BPU to order utilities to make their systems more resilient to extreme storms, a cost that will be passed on to their customers.

[related]That efforts include plans to develop so-called combined heat and power (CHP) plants, which generate power more efficiently than most conventional sources. The plan sets a target of producing 1,500 megawatts of power from such facilities, another target unlikely to be met by 2020. The state is hoping to encourage the use of CHP as a way of providing power in the event the grid fails, as happened during Sandy.

The hearings occur at a time when the Legislature is considering a bill that would dramatically ramp up the state’s reliance on renewable energy to meet its needs. If adopted, it would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2050.

The proposal is opposed by many business groups, who fear it would boost already high energy costs, since some of the programs are funded by surcharges on utility bills. Instead, they have been strong advocates of efforts to bring more natural gas into the state.

The agency is sure to hear a lot of criticism from clean-energy advocates who fault the administration for failing to implement many of the plan’s recommendations.

“The Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan has been a failure by even their own benchmarks,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. He cited failure both to approve any offshore wind projects — even though the plan proposes to develop 1,500 megawatts of wind power off the coast by 2020 — and to promote energy efficiency to curb energy use.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “Minimally, they should do something on energy efficiency and offshore wind,’’ he said. “The current plan is not worth the paper it is printed on.’’

The initial public hearing on the plan will be held at the Seton Hall Law School at 1109 Raymond Boulevard in Newark on August 11 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.