Getting to 2030 Renewable Levels Without Going Broke

Aggressively ramping up renewable energy could help state halve carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, new report asserts

wind farm
New Jersey can rely on renewable energy to produce one-third of its electricity by 2030 while essentially keeping energy costs stable, according to a new report commissioned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

By aggressively ramping up renewable energy and accelerating efforts to reduce energy use, the state can halve the carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, the report prepared by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and PSE Healthy Energy said.

The report tries to establish a pathway to a clean energy future for New Jersey, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 80 percent by 2050, a target unlikely to be met if the state does not set interim goals, according to many advocates.

Three key components

In laying out its framework, the report identifies three key components of such a strategy: continuing high growth in solar installations, more pronounced cuts in energy consumption, and stepped up efforts to develop the state’s offshore wind resources.

The report mirrors some of the same recommendations made by a group of two dozen former government officials, business leaders, and others who are calling for quick action by the next governor to address climate-change impacts in the state.

“This report shows we can achieve quite a bit by 2030 and that it’s affordable,’’ said Tom Gilbert, of ReThink Energy NJ, a part of the foundation.

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But the research projects some pretty ambitious gains in both renewables, and in energy efficiency. Clean-energy advocates long have sought to ramp up state efforts in both areas, but only with modest success. Less that 5 percent of the electricity in the state comes from renewable sources today.

The report projects that the state can improve its energy savings from just 0.6 percent currently to 2 percent annually, a target achieved by other states. It also forecasts New Jersey could be producing 3,250 megawatts of capacity from offshore wind farms by 2030, when none are operating today.

“We’re not saying this is a slam dunk,’’ conceded Arjun Makhijani, a lead author of the report. “If you do it right, it can be done.’’

Holding the line on costs

The proposed expansion of renewables is projected to moderately increase electricity generation costs, but overall costs for electricity will be about the same if the efficiency savings are achieved, the report said. After 2030, renewables will be the most affordable energy generation resource because of cost declines, the report claimed, even without including the health and environmental benefits of lower emissions.

In justifying its projections on costs, the report argued the greater energy efficiency goals reduce the need for electricity generation, including expensive peaking plants. It acknowledged, however, it will require increased investment in such programs to increase savings to appropriate levels.

In addition, it contended projections show utility-scale solar to be competitive with natural gas well before 2030. But just last week, state regulators suspended approving new utility-scale projects pending a broad review of the solar sector.

To achieve the 2030 goals, the report also projects some initial transitioning of the vehicle fleet to electric cars (5 percent of vehicle miles traveled). The report also assumes 80 percent of residential heating systems, currently using fuel oil or propane, will be replaced by efficient electric heating pumps.

Finally, the report noted the recent retirement of nuclear power plants and indicates that units in South Jersey, supplying nearly half of the state’s electricity, might also shut down. The report recommended the state prepare now for those retirements, possibly through negotiating contracts to import renewables from out-of-state and more vigorous development of offshore wind.

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