A state agency is looking at whether New Jersey by rejoining a regional initiative to clamp down on greenhouse gases from power plants could wind up increasing climate-altering pollution elsewhere.
The issue, known as leakage, has been raised previously by environmentalists and energy consultants who questioned whether New Jersey’s proposal to re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative might increase emissions from states not part of the program.
In essence, critics argued the caps set by the Murphy administration on carbon pollution from power plants were at such a level that cheaper and dirtier generating units out of state would run more frequently than expensive and less polluting facilities in New Jersey, leading to more global warming pollution.
As a result, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, recognizing that modeling suggests potential leakage, will hold a meeting with stakeholders to determine policy to fix the problem if significant global warming pollution increases. The meeting will be held Dec. 13 at Montclair State University’s Center for Environmental and Life Sciences from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“It makes sense to do this analysis,’’ said Bruce Ho, a senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Energy Program. “It is an important issue for states to look at to get a handle on this issue.’’
New Jersey was an original member of RGGI, but former Gov. Chris Christie withdrew the state from the program in 2012, calling it ineffective and merely a tax on utility customers. For Gov. Phil Murphy, rejoining the initiative was a primary campaign issue and led to one of his first executive orders of his administration.
Utility customers will pay
The multistate initiative is a cap-and-trade program which places a tax on carbon pollution from power plants, an expense passed on to utility customers. Money raised by the surcharge is passed back to states to fund clean-energy efforts that support renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental justice programs.
At one time, it was viewed as a possible model for a national program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It may yet achieve that purpose. New Jersey will participate in the next RGGI auction early next year, and Virginia will join the initiative in 2021.
More significantly, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced this fall he wanted his state to join RGGI. Pennsylvania is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and a major source of fossil fuel emissions.
For New Jersey to avoid increasing emissions as a result of leakage, Ho argued it and other states need to expand the footprint of RGGI to include other states, like Pennsylvania. New Jersey also needs to focus on expanding its use of renewable energy and energy efficiency programs to reduce energy use, Ho said.
“We need to lock on things in New Jersey so we don’t increase emissions from dirty plants in other states,’’ agreed Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. That means increased investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, Tittel said.
While different modeling predicted various results, one set of calculations by Gabel Associates, a respected energy consulting firm in Highland Park, suggested any emission reductions gained by New Jersey by rejoining RGGI would be offset by increased carbon pollution from other states.