NJ Makes Small Gains in Energy Efficiency, But Is No Longer a Leader Among States

Although annual scorecard credits New Jersey for efforts, clean-energy advocate says it ‘feels like New Jersey is running to a standstill’
Credit: Chrisfloresfoto/Twenty20
The state is adopting regulations to achieve new energy-saving goals.

With warnings of climate change accelerating, many states, but not all, are ramping up efforts to reduce energy use by promoting electric vehicles, requiring more energy-efficient appliances and enacting tougher building codes to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis.

New Jersey, once a leader in energy efficiency, inched forward, ranking 17th in the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, rising one place in the rankings.

The 13th annual scorecard is closely scrutinized by clean-energy advocates and policymakers, who cite the analysis as offering states a prescription for ways to sharply reduce energy use by copying or implementing best practices adopted by their neighbors.

Most states are turning to energy efficiency as the most cost-effective way to reduce their carbon footprint, the analysis found, at a time the federal government is rolling back regulations at the national level, such as tougher vehicle emission standards and mandates to transition to electric vehicles.

For instance, 10 states, including New Jersey, are now committed to adopting California’s zero-emission vehicle program, which the Trump administration is trying to end by eliminating a waiver allowing California to require cleaner-running vehicles.

Hawaii adopted tougher efficiency standards for products not covered at the federal level, including computers, faucets and showerheads, according to the analysis. Washington, Colorado and Nevada adopted laws that included provisions to keep federal light bulb standards the federal government is moving to roll back.

New York moves into fifth place

“State leadership on energy efficiency is more important than ever for ushering in the low-carbon future we need,’’ said Steve Nadel, executive director of the ACEEE. “If states embrace robust energy-saving measures nationwide, Americans can slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent and deliver more than $700 billion in energy savings by 2050.’’

For the most part, the scorecard credited New Jersey’s efforts in the sector. It described New York (which moved into the top five spot) and New Jersey as states to watch because of their robust clean-energy goals and focus on efficiency.

New Jersey also scored well in energy-savings efforts in the transportation sector, the biggest single source of carbon-forming pollution. The state saw an increase in electric vehicle registrations in 2018 and the analysis cited Gov. Phil Murphy for creating a first-of-its-kind statewide partnership to establish a framework for an electric vehicle ecosystem.

In a statement, the BPU said they were pleased New Jersey was recognized as a state to watch for designing strengthened energy efficiency programs. “Energy efficiency remains vitally important to help the state achieve Governor Murphy’s goal of 100 percent of clean energy by 2050 as we strive to address climate change,’’ the statement said.

Clean-energy advocates and others were less impressed.

“It feels like New Jersey is running to a standstill. We’re not in the top 10,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “And we are still behind the national savings in energy savings.’’

Indeed, the energy savings achieved in New Jersey dropped from the previous year, according to the analysis. In the previous year’s scorecard, the energy savings amounted to 0.55 of retail electric sales, or 413,344 MWh (megawatt hours). In the latest scorecard, those savings dropped to 0.35 of electric sales, or 259,857 MWh.

Challenge to meet standard set in new law

A new state law signed by the governor last year mandates that the state’s electric utilities reduce electricity use by their customers by 2% a year. “It’s a very big hill to climb to achieve that standard,’’ said O’Malley.

The agency is just now beginning a proceeding to adopt the regulations to achieve the new energy savings in that law. At a hearing last week, staffers said they hope to implement the program in July 2021.

“New Jersey’s rating on energy efficiency is based on hopefulness and wishful thinking,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who also noted the state BPU has failed to act on two filings by Atlantic City Electric and Public Service Electric & Gas to start building the charging infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles.

PSE&G also has filed a $2.8 billion initiative to invest in 22 energy-saving programs across the state, but the BPU has shelved consideration of the proposal until next spring at the earliest.

“The ACEEE scorecard shows that while last year’s Clean Energy Act has set the stage for New Jersey leadership on energy efficiency, customers are still waiting to see the benefit,’’ said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for PSE&G. “The results in other states illustrate that the best approach for achieving Gov. Phil Murphy’s clean energy vision is to leverage New Jersey’s utilities to get the tools to drive energy efficiency into every home and business.’’

Some states lost ground in promoting energy efficiency, according to the analysis, citing Kentucky, Ohio, Wyoming and North Dakota.