Explainer: The Plan to Dramatically Reduce NJ’s Reliance on Fossil Fuels

The state’s energy mix is supposed to look much different by 2050; revised plan outlines clear requirements for clean energy

The Murphy administration’s new Energy Master Plan envisions “a monumental transformation’’ in energy policy and how the state produces, distributes and aims to reduce fossil fuel use in New Jersey over the next three decades.

Just how transformative is perhaps best explained by the huge reversals in how the state will use energy now and how it would rely on different sources to power its economy by 2050, a year the administration projects it will achieve its goal of a 100% clean energy economy.

Nowhere is the change so dramatic as in the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. Seventy-five percent of New Jerseyans rely on natural gas to heat their homes. More than half (51.6%) of the electricity produced in the state in 2018 was produced by power plants. Nuclear plants generated 42.5%, and renewables nearly 5%.

Energy mix’s evolution

By 2050, the energy mix will look a lot different, according to the plan. Nuclear will comprise 16% of the mix; solar, 34%; offshore wind, 23%; biogas (a source that allows gas plants to offset its carbon emissions), 6%; 2% from out-of-state solar systems; and 19% from out-of-state wind.

In the interim, the plan suggests an eventual 75% reduction in natural gas use by mid-century, a transition that would be accomplished by a phased switch to using electrified heat pumps to heat buildings and homes throughout the state, as well as the increased use of renewables to produce electricity, and vehicles powered by electricity instead of petroleum.

No moratorium on fossil fuel projects

The plan does not call for a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects as advocated by many environmental groups. Instead, administration officials have argued many of the new rules the document proposes will lead to significant reductions in fossil fuel use.

Indeed, it recognizes some of the same complaints clean energy advocates have had about the continued use of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. “Therefore, continuing to expand the gas distribution system and rely on fossil fuels will lock in decades of continued emissions and risk in financing what will become stranded assets,’’ the plan said.

In addition, the stated goal of electrifying buildings, a priority in the plan, is largely depending on technologies that are “still under development,’’ according to the plan. “Clearly, there is significant gap between 2050 goals and today’s energy system,’’ the plan acknowledged.

Doubling demand for electricity

At the same time, the proposal to electrify both the transportation and building sectors — the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions — will likely double demand for electricity by 2050, while the state moves to phase out natural gas and reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

Part of that increased demand will be driven by a push to electrify the transportation sector, the source of more than 40% of carbon pollution. By 2050, the sector will be almost completely electrified, according to the plan.

Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that requires the state to implement a comprehensive plan to begin to electrify the transportation system, primarily by focusing on light-duty vehicles and building the refueling structure around the state, so cars can be easily recharged.

Solar developments

The plan also calls for significant increases in the use of renewable energy, which accounts for roughly about 5% of the electricity used today. By mid-century, that would increase significantly, particularly for solar, which is projected to develop 17,000 megawatts (one MW can power more than 800 homes) by 2050, according to the plan.

Solar advocates question the projection, noting the state is in the process of closing down its existing system of financing solar projects. It has developed a transition program to incent new investments, but has yet to propose a permanent system for building the sector.

Fred DeSanti, representing the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition, said the plan has many ambitious goals, but it probably will require heightened incentives to require companies to invest in substantially more projects in the future.

The state plan also has aggressive goals to create systems to store energy — a technology in a fairly early stage of development in New Jersey.