While the state is stepping up its reliance on natural gas to help meet its energy needs, most residents would instead prefer it ramp up its use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, according to a recent poll.
Nearly 80 percent of residents surveyed by Fairleigh Dickinson’s Public Mind said the state should invest more in renewable energy, with more than three-quarters of those responding saying they favor a pending bill (S-2444), that would require a target of 80 percent renewables by 2050.
The poll, commissioned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, was cited by the organization and others who are launching a campaign “Rethink New Jersey’’ to promote and inform the public about the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the pipelines they say threaten preserved lands, water, and communities around the state.
“There’s a real disconnect between what voters prefer — clean energy — and what our policies are,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for Rethink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
The launch of the campaign comes amid a growing public outcry over at least a dozen new natural gas pipelines proposed to be built across the state, many traversing open space and farmland preserved with public funds.
There are proponents of that development, however, which aligns with the state’s Energy Master Plan adopted by the Christie administration. The tapping of vast new supplies of natural gas found in neighboring Pennsylvania have led to steep drops in the cost of heating homes over the past few winters as well as lower charges for businesses that rely on it for their manufacturing operations.
Besides the pipelines, at least four new natural-gas-fired power plants also are planned to be built in the state or under construction. The new plants could end congestion on the power grid, a factor that increases the cost of electricity.
In launching the campaign, the organizations won backing from former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean, and Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Somerset), a cosponsor of the bill that would require 80 percent of its energy come from renewables by 2050.
“It is unsettling how so many new pipelines have been proposed throughout our region without the clear assessment of the actual need, or central planning for their approval,’’ Florio said. “Now is the time for us to focus our investments and public policy on advancing truly clean and renewable energy.’’
Gilbert noted that the proposed PennEast pipeline — a 118-mile gas conduit beginning in Pennsylvania and cutting through Hunterdon County before ending in Mercer County — would bring in 53 percent more natural gas into the region that it was intended to serve.
Kean agreed with Florio there needs to be much greater scrutiny of new pipelines as well as “the urgent need to move forward with clean, renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency.’’
Gilbert said the state’s Energy Master Plan is too focused on natural gas, not renewables. “We need to change the direction of the state,’’ he said, while conceding “it’s not going to happen overnight.’’