Op-Ed: The Road Ahead for New Jersey’s Climate Leadership

Fred Krupp | June 12, 2019 | Opinion
Several states, New Jersey among them, have bold climate agendas. It’s time for Garden State to lay out the means of achieving its agenda

Fred Krupp
With the impacts of global warming hitting New Jersey and everywhere, the science is clear: To avoid the catastrophic costs of unchecked climate change, the United States and the world need to achieve zero net greenhouse pollution by 2050.

It will be a big transition, and though existing technology can put us on the path to net zero, we need significantly more investment, innovation and political will to actually get there.

That’s why it matters that even as the administration in Washington denies the problem, states are stepping up. Governors from New Mexico to Colorado to New Jersey are driving bold climate agendas. Colorado’s governor recently signed legislation requiring economy-wide reductions of 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050, with a goal to get to net zero climate pollution.

Last year in the Garden State, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Clean Energy Act and Executive Order 28, which together require the state to develop and implement a plan to reach 100 percent clean energy by mid-century. Now it’s time to accelerate progress by laying out the path to achieve the goal. For starters, Gov. Murphy, the Legislature and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities must empower and incentivize the state’s electric and gas providers, and also hold them accountable for achieving the results.

We’re already seeing some great strides. The state is seeking investment to build 1,100 megawatts of new offshore-wind power, with an eye toward 3,500 megawatts of capacity by 2030. Many people are surprised to hear that New Jersey is among the top states for solar installations. The BPU recently turned it up a notch, approving a three-year initiative to supply 45,000 residences with solar power, including low-to-moderate-income homes.

One of Gov. Murphy’s first moves on taking office was signing an executive order to bring New Jersey back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional market-based program to put a declining limit on carbon pollution from the power sector — an innovative and effective approach that should be extended to other sectors like transportation and should limit pollution from electricity imported into New Jersey as well.

More jobs in energy efficiency

Last year’s Clean Energy Act calls for the more efficient use of electricity. The improvements would create increased opportunities for jobs and triple the number of people in New Jersey working in energy efficiency to over 100,000, while saving homeowners and businesses money. New Jersey needs to ramp up its energy efficiency program quickly to meet its climate and clean energy goals. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective and fastest way to reduce climate pollution and save businesses and consumers money.

New Jersey’s electric and gas utilities have an important and necessary role to play in achieving the goals of the Clean Energy Act.

For example, PSE&G, the state’s largest utility, has worked with 36 hospitals to install energy efficiency improvements, including upgrades to chilled water and steam systems, LED lighting and systems to recycle heat from boilers, and helped fund the hospitals’ share of the costs. This amounts to more than $14 million in savings. And in a recent filing with the BPU, the company proposed a wide-ranging and innovative list of 22 new efficiency programs.

PSE&G also worked with Environmental Defense Fund to test new, more effective ways to map and measure emissions of methane (a highly potent greenhouse gas) coming from their natural gas distribution system, using Google Street View mapping cars — technology that’s now being delivered by commercial providers to maximize climate benefits of a $1.8 billion pipeline replacement effort.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Natural Gas enhanced its on-bill repayment program to drive greater participation for low-to-moderate-income customers, offering longer repayment terms to better match the repayment cost with the energy savings from heating and cooling upgrades. Similarly, other companies would be able to follow suit when they have strong guidance.

These are but a few examples of the kind of steps all of the state’s electric and gas utilities must take. The BPU has a critical role to play in setting the goals each of the state’s utilities must meet and holding each company accountable for performance. Achieving a net zero carbon future will require government and business to work together. The need to address climate change is urgent. In New Jersey, as elsewhere, the only way we will win is if all hands are on deck.