Fundamental Changes in Power Industry Will Change Life in NJ, Northeast

One of most significant benefits of this transformation: Lower greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global warming

Major trends are reshaping the electric power industry, which will likely change the way people power their homes, travel from one place to another, and even heat their houses, according to a new report.

The report, analyzing impacts of the evolving changes in the sector, suggests that the Northeast, including New Jersey, is well-positioned to adapt to an industry in transition because of existing policies and reforms that have already been instituted.

Perhaps more importantly, the ongoing changes should accelerate a trend to reduce global-warming emissions from power plants and help states and the region achieve aggressive goals to cut back carbon pollution.

The report, by M.J. Bradley & Associates, a MA-based consulting firm, touches on many of the issues now being debated by lawmakers and policymakers in New Jersey, includes transitioning to a cleaner-energy economy, using less electricity in homes and businesses, and reconfiguring the century-old utility business model.

Many states, the report noted, share many of those goals. Most of the Northeast has set ambitious reduction goals for greenhouse-gas emissions, including New Jersey, which is aiming to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050.

“One way to achieve those targets would be to continue decarbonizing electricity production and supply, while at the same time transitioning building heating and, heating and transportation from fossil fuels to electric power,’’ wrote Michael J. Bradley, president of the firm, in the report’s foreword.

“The basic building blocks to achieve such an outcome are (for the most part) known today, like electric vehicles, energy efficiency, wind and solar, fast-ramping gas plants, advanced lighting and controls, cold-climate heat pumps, and energy storage devices, but they have yet to be deployed at the scale required to meet the goals envisioned by the states,’’ he added.

The Northeast has long been out front in developing policies to promote clean energy, energy efficiency, and, most notably, a regional initiative to curb emissions from power plants. New Jersey initially joined the program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but Gov. Chris Christie pulled the state out of it early in his first term, calling it ineffective and merely a tax on utility customers.

Money raised from the surcharge on power-plant emissions eventually makes its way back to the member states to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. New Jersey is expected to rejoin the initiative if a Democratic governor is elected next year.

In the new report, titled “Power Switch,” RGGI was cited as playing a central role in guiding resource and investment decisions in the region. From 2009 to 2013, the nine states still participating in the program invested nearly $2 billion in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects from proceeds raised by the surcharge on emissions.

In the future, states will have to focus on the transportation sector — the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions in the region — to make new progress in achieving carbon reduction targets.

“There are certainly more opportunities to reduce emissions within the electric system, but as the system continues to decarbonize, electricity will provide opportunities for achieving emissions reductions more broadly across the economy by switching from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, and by switching from oil and natural gas use in boilers and furnaces to heat pumps powered by electricity,’’ the report said.

The report also noted the increased reliance on cleaner technologies to produce electricity, such as solar and wind power. New Jersey had the highest amount of solar capacity in the region at the end of 2105 (more than 1,200 megawatts), the report said.

Industry analysts expect the state to double its solar capacity over the next five years, according to the report. Along those lines, the Legislature is considering a bill that would ramp up the state’s solar goals over the next several years.

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