Planning a Clean-Energy Agenda for When Christie Is Former Governor

Energy advocates are beginning to push for more renewable energy, looking into decoupling the power sector, and deploying charging stations for e-vehicles

Gov. Chris Christie
With only a year left in Gov. Chris Christie’s term, lawmakers and clean-energy advocates will likely focus on promoting more ambitious policies for renewable energy over the next 12 months.

The emerging agenda, under discussion among stakeholders and Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, aims to lay the framework for overhauling the state’s energy policies when a new governor takes office a year from now.

Some of the issues, like ramping up the state’s reliance on solar and other types of renewable energy, have been kicking around the Legislature for a few years. Others, like dramatically changing the business model of the state’s gas and electric utilities, have been debated in the past, but have eluded compromises that satisfy both industry and consumers,

The Legislature also is expected to explore ways to develop energy-grid storage, a technology now recognized as crucial to expanding and making intermittent-power sources, such as wind and solar, more reliable and pervasive.

The objectives run counter to some of the policies embraced by the Christie administration and contrary to the energy policies anticipated to be advanced by President-elect Donald Trump. But proponents argue the efforts to fight climate change will likely be led by states over the next four years.

“In the Trump era, New Jersey is going to have to reassert itself as a clean-energy leader,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The Legislature is a great place to start.’’

David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action of New Jersey, agreed. “Given the anticipated direction at the federal level, state leadership is going to be more important than ever,’’ he said.

In some cases, the groundwork is already being laid by special task forces created to advance a clean-energy agenda. For instance, O’Malley is serving on a legislative task force created by Smith to come up with recommendations for decoupling — a way to encourage utilities to help customers use less energy while still earning enough to maintain their power systems.

The task force is far from reaching a consensus, but Smith is hoping the group can develop a relatively uncomplicated bill that could pave the way for a compromise. Even if it does not happen, the discussions could move the issue forward.

“The main point is we’re setting an energy agenda for the next administration,’’ noted Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

Others concurred. “I welcome it,’’ said Fred DeSanti, an energy lobbyist who is also on the decoupling task force. “Let’s keep talking.’’

DeSanti also is pushing a bill (S-2276) that would ramp up how much solar should be installed in the state over the next few years, a step industry advocates say is needed to avert a crash in the sector. The bill is expected to win approval from the Legislature and may be signed by the governor.

Smith’s committee also is likely to revisit another renewable-energy bill already passed by the panel. That bill (S-1707) would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to be produced by renewable energy by 2050, a mandate similar to stepped-up requirements for renewables adopted by other states.

In the next few months, others are hoping to convince lawmakers to focus on building out the infrastructure for electric vehicles. Widespread adoption of electric cars is viewed as critical to the state’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, but advocates say the state is not doing enough to promote installation of charging stations.

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