Op-Ed: There’s an Affordable Path to Clean Energy for New Jersey

Andrew Zwicker | January 29, 2018 | Opinion
A cleaner, healthier, stronger economic future is a lot closer than supporters of fossil fuels would like us to believe

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex)
Sometimes, the way forward becomes incredibly clear.

That’s how I felt sitting in the audience as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation recently presented the findings of a research study it commissioned on how to dramatically increase New Jersey’s use of clean, renewable energy – like wind and solar – to generate electricity.

The report shows how New Jersey can feasibly produce a third of its electricity from in-state renewables by 2030 (just 12 years from now), reduce harmful carbon emissions by half, and – contrary to what many people think – accomplish the job at costs comparable to what consumers pay in today’s fossil-fuel-dominated system. That’s with all the added benefits of cleaner air and water, safer communities, and stronger long-term viability. The analysis also identifies additional options to ramp up our reliance on renewables that would save money over the status quo and reduce emissions even more quickly.

In short, a cleaner, healthier, stronger economic future is a lot closer than supporters of fossil fuels would like us to believe.

The variable, of course, is that we need to make the right decisions now to put New Jersey on the pathway to clean energy, and we must be willing to think long term, which is all too rare in government today.

There are three keys to meeting the state’s 2030 clean-energy goals:

  • Improve energy efficiency in New Jersey to at least 2 percent a year, up from the current 0.6 percent. We know this goal is achievable because Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are exceeding it.
  • Continue to expand solar power at rates New Jersey already has achieved, because the cost of electricity from solar will continue to become more affordable over time.
  • Develop some of New Jersey’s vast offshore wind potential as Gov. Phil Murphy has called for.
  • Energy efficiency – which is the most cost-effective energy, and an immediate way to reduce our energy consumption – is also a job creator. Some 32,000 people already work in energy efficiency in New Jersey – with glowing prospects for expansion. These jobs include manufacturing EnergyStar products and LED lighting and installing cost-effective heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems in our neighborhoods, businesses, warehouses, and schools.

    Energy-efficiency measures also reduce the need for power plants, reduce home and business energy bills, and make New Jersey a healthier state by reducing dangerous emissions.

    Losing ground

    But New Jersey has been losing ground on this important front. From 2006 to 2016, the state fell to 24th from seventh on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s energy-efficiency scorecard.

    Meanwhile, New Jersey’s failure to make wind power a reality is an unfortunate example of squandering our state’s resources. Even though we have the best conditions for wind power on the Eastern Seaboard, Rhode Island beat us at building the nation’s first offshore wind-generated energy system. A few years back, former Gov. Chris Christie announced a major offshore wind initiative and then reneged.

    That’s a shame, because history shows good jobs come from innovation and invention, not from ignoring realities our world faces – like climate change and the need to shift to homegrown power sources that don’t rely on fossil fuels.

    These are not just jobs for “eggheads.” For every Ph.D. in a lab developing renewable energy technology, there will be many more jobs in the construction trades – easing fears that moving to clean, affordable energy is a job killer in that area.

    The president of the United Steelworkers labor union, Leo W. Gerard, put it well when he said last year, “There’s more steel in a wind turbine than there is in a bunch of cars.” He added that over the long run, we either have “good jobs and a clean environment…or neither.”

    Clean energy is already a tremendous job-driver in New Jersey. Three times more New Jerseyans work in solar- and wind-related jobs as do in fossil fuel electric generation.

    An analysis by ReThink Energy NJ and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national, nonpartisan business group, found that nearly 80 percent of all energy generation and efficiency jobs in New Jersey are in clean energy – totaling 41,000 jobs.

    It’s time to reverse course, and offer sound alternatives to federal policies that are taking the nation in the wrong direction. With reckless decisions like the recent effort to allow oil and gas drilling in the ocean waters off New Jersey, the Trump administration offers a roadmap to environmental disaster.

    New Jersey can do better, and with Gov. Murphy providing leadership at the top, I look forward to renewed momentum behind clean energy and energy efficiency.

    Following the clean energy pathway can, should, and will make New Jersey cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous.