The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday turned out to be an eventful day for Joe Fiordaliso.
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy announced the appointment of the Essex County Democrat as president of the state Board of Public Utilities, the regulatory agency he has served on as a commissioner for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie pocket vetoed a bill (S-2276) much of the solar sector views as providing a crucial short-term fix to the industry, a remedy deemed essential to maintaining robust growth in what has been a thriving market. Neither the appointment nor the veto was unexpected.
Fiordaliso will take the helm of an agency for the most part overlooked in Trenton, but sure to take a bigger role in a Murphy administration. The new governor has promised to promote an aggressive agenda on renewable energy and climate change, while implementing an overall redirection in state energy policy.
The dilemma is how to achieve a 100 percent clean-energy economy by 2050 as Murphy promised without boosting what businesses and consumers say are already unacceptably steep utility bills, while at the same time modernizing aging power grids and water infrastructure systems.
“We can and we must do more to ensure high-quality and affordable utilities services that work for the people of New Jersey,’’ Fiordaliso said in a statement released by Murphy’s press team.
The pocket veto of the solar bill, announced without comment by the outgoing governor, is likely to push the issue to the top of a crowded agency agenda as the new administration takes office today. Besides solar, the state faces tough questions about the future of its three nuclear power plants, as well as pending rate cases involving Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey’s largest utility.
Fortunately, Fiordaliso has been knee-deep in solar cases since joining the board back in 2005. The BPU, cognizant of the pitfalls awaiting the sector, initiated a proceeding late last year to determine whether there should be significant changes in how the state goes about promoting solar. So far, the agency has not proposed any overhaul.
The solar bill aimed to address that issue, ramping up mandates for the state’s reliance on solar power. The legislation won widespread support from the industry, but was opposed by the state Division of Rate Counsel as increasing ratepayers’ subsidies for the sector at a time when the technology is becoming more competitive with conventional power sources.
Without changes, solar advocates fear the market could crash, drying up investment and causing job losses. “We’ve got six to eight months before we’re done,’’ said Fred DeSanti, a lobbyist representing solar companies. “We’ve got to get this done.’’
The industry is looking forward to working with Fiordaliso, DeSanti said, since the commissioner has taken a lead on solar issues with the board in recent years.