As the federal government rolls back environmental rules, many states across the nation are investing more in energy efficiency and clean energy, according to a new national analysis.
New Jersey, which in recent years was a laggard in using energy more efficiently, was ranked as the state making the most improvements in that area, a scorecard from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy showed.
The state moved up five ranks to 18th since 2017, an upturn credited to new policies adopted by the Murphy administration that will mandate cuts in electric and gas use by 2.0 percent and 0.75 percent respectively within five years. New Jersey also announced it will rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate pact to curb carbon pollution from power plants.
Most of those new policies are incorporated into a clean-energy bill signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in May. Besides establishing annual energy-savings targets, the legislation set goals for energy storage and strengthens renewable-energy standards.
Progress, but still farther to go
“The fact that New Jersey has emerged as the most-improved state speaks volumes on the state’s commitment to becoming a 100 percent clean-energy state by 2050,’’ said Murphy in a statement. “We’ve made enormous progress in very short order, but there remains more hard work ahead.’’
The task is complicated by a wide range of investments the state is planning to make to achieve its clean-energy goals, most of which require utility customers to foot much of the cost. The state is facing the need to invest billions of dollars in promoting new solar installations, establishing the nation’s most aggressive offshore wind industry, and modernizing an aging electric grid.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done to implement these policies,’’ agreed Tom Gilbert, campaign director of Rethink Energy NJ, a group pushing to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. “It’s a sign the state is moving in the right direction.’’
The push to reduce energy use is occurring in many other states, too. Investments in energy efficiency in the utility sector increased to nearly $8 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2016, according to the analysis.
“States are stepping up on energy efficiency, including major new commitments in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia, helping to address the very limited activity from Washington D.C.,’’ said Steve Nadel, executive director of ACEEE.
For years, clean-energy advocates have been pressing the state to expand energy-efficiency initiatives without much success. The Christie administration frequently raided a clean-energy fund designed to finance such initiatives, diverting more than $1 billion to other uses.
Unlike more than two dozen other states, New Jersey also does not have a mechanism to allow utilities to recover lost revenue from projects that help customers reduce electric use.
As in the past, Massachusetts and California ranked as the top two states in energy efficiency. The former approved a new plan to invest in grid modernization and the latter ranked the highest in cutting energy use for buildings, transportation, and appliances.