Governor’s Signature on Key Energy Bills Puts Cap on Last Legislative Session

Tom Johnson | January 22, 2020 | Energy & Environment
But Murphy disappoints some advocates with his decision not to sign certain measures
Credit: Chrisfloresfoto/Twenty20
One measure the governor signed was sparked by concerns the existing incentives provided to solar were too costly.

In moves that could boost New Jersey’s solar sector and offshore wind industry, Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday signed a couple of significant bills to advance his clean energy agenda, while pocket vetoing others.

Solar advocates strongly pushed one of the bills (S-4275), viewing it as critical to stabilizing the industry as the state transitions to a new way of financing solar projects in New Jersey. The measure was sparked by concerns the existing incentives provided to solar were too costly, but new subsidies would not be enough to sustain the industry.

In addition, the governor signed a bill (A-5663) that aims to figure out the most cost-effective and least environmentally disruptive ways to bring power from offshore wind farms to populations who need the electricity to power their homes.

His actions, capping the lame-duck legislative session that ended last week, could set priorities for what lawmakers will take up in the new term next week.

The week after a legislative session, all the bills the governor doesn’t sign are vetoed automatically in what is called a pocket veto. Murphy’s vetoed bills included one (A-4382) that would have established a statewide program to recycle and reuse paint, and a measure (S-2958/A-4535) to promote private investments in government energy projects.

$230 million for preservation

In other signings, the governor approved a nine-bill package that would divvy up to $230 million in corporate business taxes to fund a variety of open space, farmland preservation, and historic preservation projects.

The most controversial bill Murphy signed would allow independent transmission companies to bid to build the lines to bring power from the farms onto land to meet electricity demand.

“The new law makes tremendous progress toward creating efficient and successful transmission infrastructure to deliver wind generated off the Jersey coast to our electric grid,’’ said Janice Fuller, president of Anbaric, a renewable energy company seeking to build transmission facilities off the coast.

But New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel director Stefanie Brand has opposed the bill, saying New Jersey customers could wind up paying for facilities that deliver power to out-of-state customers. “This bill, however, would place the burden on New Jersey ratepayers, regardless of the benefits reaped in other states,’’ Brand argued in a statement released last year.

The other bill, which solar sector advocates developed, seems to have won backing from the state Board of Public Utilities. It is designed to give solar developers more flexibility obtaining  incentives to maintain investments in the solar sector even as the state aims to rein in costs.

“This new law will stop the solar market from crashing, but we need to do more,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. BPU is still working through its way to develop a new permanent program to finance solar installations.

Meanwhile, advocates of the new paint recycling program, which Murphy vetoed, vowed to revive it in the new legislative session. “We’re really disappointed,’’ said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey.