The Murphy administration yesterday unveiled its draft Energy Master Plan, a long-awaited roadmap detailing how the state will transition to a clean-energy economy and achieve steep reductions in global-warming pollution within three decades.
The 107-page document signals a significant reversal of energy policies promoted by the prior Christie administration, which sought to expand the state’s natural-gas infrastructure, a strategy that led to lower heating and electricity costs for consumers but increased New Jersey’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Instead, the draft plan calls for shifting away from gas and other fossil fuels, primarily by maximum electrification of the transportation and building sectors, the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey. The draft plan essentially incorporates the state’s Global Warming Response Act, a law that mandates 80 percent reductions in carbon pollution below 2006 levels by 2050.
In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy said the strategies set forth in the plan will foster economic growth by creating thousands of jobs. “Today’s draft plan is a critical step forward in reducing the effects of climate change and securing our state’s clean-energy future.’’
No bottom line on clean energy
By and large, the draft plan avoids calculating the costs of transforming the state from an economy heavily dependent on natural gas to one that relies on newer, less conventional sources like offshore wind. The plan does note those technologies are becoming more competitive with traditional sources but makes no attempt to calculate impact on customers’ utility bills.
The successful implementation of these strategies “within the draft EMP will result in drastically reducing fossil fuels,’’ according to the plan.
But some argue the draft does not go far enough in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Environmental groups have called on the Murphy administration to issue a moratorium on all new fossil-fuel projects, a call endorsed by seven bipartisan legislators yesterday, including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.
“There is no excuse to build new fossil-fuel projects,’’ Weinberg said, an opponent of a proposed gas plant in the Meadowlands to supply electricity to New York City. It is one of four new gas-fired plants opposed by environmentalists, along with nine new gas-pipeline projects.
The draft plan makes no mention of a moratorium on fossil-fuel projects but notes it “can and should strengthen existing mechanisms and rapidly implement new strategies to increase renewable energy production, accelerate energy efficiency incentives, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.’’
NJ, the natural-gas state
Renewable energy accounts today for only 5 percent of New Jersey’s energy mix, and energy savings account for under 1 percent of the overall blend. Natural gas heats 75 percent of homes and provides more than half of electricity in New Jersey.
In that respect, the draft recognizes the difficulties in achieving those goals, acknowledging the significant gap between the governor’s 2050 target of 100 percent clean energy and today’s energy systems. But some are encouraged by the dramatic shift in focus.
“All the right pieces are there,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ, citing the focus on transportation and building sectors, as well as on becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. “They’ve got the right targets, but there’s a lot of details to work out.’’
While some may criticize the lack of a moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects, there are provisions in the plan that might spur concerns from the state’s electric and gas utilities.
For instance, the plan suggests the state ramp down any new subsidies to retrofit homes and businesses from oil heating to natural gas. “Beyond 2030, New Jersey will have to aggressively target existing natural-gas heated buildings,’’ it stated.
Curbing utility transmission projects
The draft plan also aims to increase scrutiny of new transmission projects and upgrades by utilities, which have significantly increased costs for consumers. Public Service Electric & Gas, the state’s largest utility, has seen transmission grow to more than 40 percent of its rate base in recent years. Utilities earn a higher rate of return on transmission projects than when they upgrade poles and wires on their distribution system.
“It’s a comprehensive document with a number of new proposals,’’ said Thomas Churchelow of the New Jersey Utilities Association, a trade group. “Given the utility’s obligation to provide service, we have an eye on affordability and the ability to maintain reliable service.’’
The draft noted the state Board of Public Utilities is developing what it calls an Integrated Energy Plan that will model scenarios to identify lowest-cost ways to achieve clean energy by 2050. The final EMP, expected by the end of the year, will include that modeling.
Besides reducing energy consumption and emissions from the transportation sector (by moving primarily to electric cars) and the building sector (through using less fossil fuels and improvements in building codes), the plan identifies five other strategies to guide the state.
They include accelerating deployment of renewable energy, primarily offshore wind and solar; maximizing energy efficiency and conservation; modernizing the grid and utility infrastructure (including advanced metering infrastructure); supporting underserved communities; and expanding the clean-energy innovation economy.