Op-Ed: New Jersey Must Ensure that All Residents Benefit from Clean Energy

Pari Kasotia | December 4, 2019 | Opinion
Along with a reduction in overall emissions, the goal should be to make certain every New Jerseyan gains from cleaner air and a healthy environment
Pari Kasotia

Gov. Phil Murphy has set two bold climate goals for the Garden State: 100% carbon-neutral energy by 2050 and economy-wide emissions reduction to 80% below 2006 levels by 2050. New modeling from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities shows us how to get there.

New Jersey can meet these requirements with clean, existing technologies at a competitive price. Specifically, under the least-cost pathway, the costs would increase $34.7 billion in 2050 compared to $32.6 billion with the business-as-usual scenario, or 3.5% compared to 3.7% as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Reaching these targets will require additional policies as the model assumes significant electrification of the transportation sector and use of electric heat pumps in buildings. The BPU, through the Rutgers Energy Institute, is also undertaking a parallel study on the ratepayer impact of the findings.

The top-level numbers should be welcomed by clean-energy advocates, but we can do better. Thirty-four percent of the power is slated to come from in-state solar, and 23% from offshore wind farms on New Jersey’s coast. Additionally, 19% will come from out-of-state offshore wind and 1% from other out-of-state solar sources. Nuclear is listed in the energy mix at 16% and biogas at 6%. The 6% biogas is included to provide firm capacity, but this can be replaced with reliable storage.

New Jersey does not need any new natural gas or biogas. Vote Solar’s analysis of future solar growth demonstrates that we can reach a fossil-fuel-free future with renewable energy and storage. We project storage will experience exponential growth just as solar has over the last decade. Given the ambiguity around technological advancements, we should demand flexibility and periodic updates of the remodeling assumptions, especially knowing that investment decisions can be postponed until at least 2030.

Detailed analysis of costs and benefits

Based on the fossil-fuel cost savings and cost savings associated with reduced pollution, the calculated benefit range is $4.2 billion to $6.3 billion. However, further benefits analysis should be undertaken so we get a full view of why transitioning to a clean-energy economy is beneficial. This should include jobs and workforce impact, local community/economic development and tax revenues. Additionally, transitioning to renewables reduces cost uncertainty, which should be quantified to capture the full benefits of renewable energy in addition to future avoided costs in responding to climate-change-related natural disasters. A detailed cost-benefit analysis will provide an even more compelling argument as to why New Jersey should meet its emissions and clean-energy targets.

And to really prevent our global temperature rise from climbing above 1.5 degrees, we must significantly front-load our pollution reductions to achieve a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One crucial missing piece is that BPU’s modeling does not analyze the benefits of reducing health-harming pollution in low-income and environmental justice communities as a result of more deployment of clean energy and the shutting down of existing fossil fuel plants. The goal of any clean-energy targets should not only be to reduce overall emissions, but to ensure that all residents of New Jersey benefit from cleaner air and a healthy environment.

We are on the right path to ensure a sustainable and clean-energy future in New Jersey, but we must be explicit and deliberate in ensuring that all New Jerseyans benefit in a multitude of ways from this clean-energy transformation. Without specific, targeted policies, New Jersey’s low-income and environmental justice communities may not be able to fully participate in the growing clean-energy economy. Clean-energy access not only gives low-income families a path toward a more sustainable future, it has the power to do so in a way that builds long-lasting community resilience and wealth. Investing in these communities today will deliver large dividends for all New Jerseyans in the future.