Clean-Energy Initiatives in NJ Sponsored by Feds to Tune of $360 Million Since 2008

Tom Johnson | February 29, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Lawmakers again poised to pick up pace of renewable rollouts, seeking 80% of state’s energy to come from clean sources by 2050

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In the past six years, the federal government has provided $366 million to New Jersey to promote clean energy and energy efficiency, according to a new report issued Friday by the White House.

Those investments through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act supported 9,219 renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects in the state, generating enough energy to power 170,000 homes, the report said. In New Jersey, renewable-energy generation increased by almost 90 percent since 2008, the report added.

To many, however, the state is not moving swiftly enough to promote clean energy, a concern that is leading to a revival of a bill that died in the last legislative session. The measure would dramatically ramp up New Jersey’s reliance on alternative energy such as solar and wind power.

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee plans to consider a bill (S-1707) to increase the amount of electricity generated by so-called Class I renewables, such as solar and wind, to 80 percent by 2050. The state’s current target for these renewables is 20 percent by 2020.

[related]An identical bill passed the Senate last session, but never got to a floor vote in the Assembly. Even if it had, it was unlikely to be signed by Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration expressed concerns about its potential impact on utility ratepayers, who have helped pay for much of the state’s clean-energy program through a surcharge on their gas and electric bills.

In New Jersey, those federal investments were dwarfed by the roughly $5 billion utility customers are on the hook to pay to promote solar energy in the state, according to the Division of Rate Counsel. Hundreds of millions in ratepayer funds also have been used to fund energy-efficiency projects, which do cut utility bills.

Fifteen percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable energy, but only 4 percent is generated in New Jersey. Some clean-energy advocates argue that leads to dollars from residents and businesses going to pay for green jobs in other states.

Beyond creating a robust green economy, clean-energy advocates argue that the state needs to increase its dependence on renewable energy to achieve aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global climate change.

To reach the 80 percent renewable goal, the amount of electricity from these sources would have to increase to 30 percent by 2030 and then by another 10 percent every five years until it achieves the 80 percent target by 2050, according to the bill.

New Jersey has been very successful in promoting solar energy with more than 42,888 solar installations in the state, based on information from the Office of Clean Energy.

The state is failing to achieve targets, however, to promote offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast, projected to be a major source of clean power according to the state’s Energy Master Plan. By 2020, the state hoped to have at least 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, a goal most concede the state is unlikely to achieve.