Op-Ed: Clean Air or a Thriving Economy? We Can Have Both

A green economy will need a green workforce, one that’s better paid and that will benefit from a more equitable salary scale
Credit: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office
Joseph Fiordaliso

As president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, I am charged with protecting the safety, reliability and affordability of New Jersey’s public utilities for all residents of the Garden State. This includes the electricity that powers our lives, the water running through our pipes and the broadband that keeps us all connected.

But our responsibility also includes transitioning toward Gov. Phil Murphy’s goal of 100% clean energy — and an 80% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — and helping to create the workforce to do so. The outbreak of COVID-19 has been unfortunate and tragic, upending our lives in unthinkable ways. Coincidently, it has also forced significant reductions in our environmental impact. Electricity demand, industrial production, travel and vehicle miles are all dramatically lower, lowering emissions in proportion.

It may be tempting to believe right now that clean air and reduced climate impact comes at the expense of our economy. So I want to make it clear: We do not have to choose. We can have both clean air and a thriving, expanding economy. The price of clean air is not an economic shutdown. In fact, by transitioning to clean energy, New Jersey can accelerate its economic recovery and build a sustainable and healthier economic future.

New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan provides a road map for doing exactly that, laying out a vision of a strong, equitable and affordable clean-energy innovation economy that creates thousands of jobs and economic benefits while propelling the Garden State toward its clean-energy goals. Extensive modeling shows that we can do this strategically and affordably, resulting in more higher-paying jobs, reduced emissions and clean air. Our first Offshore Wind solicitation of 1,100 megawatts is itself anticipated to add 15,000 jobs over the project life.

In pursuing a clean-energy future, we are supporting an innovation economy that invests in people and communities to create good-paying jobs. Specifically  as one of the EMP’s seven key strategies to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050 — “Expand the Clean Energy Innovation Economy” — outlines how New Jersey can invest in developing clean-energy knowledge, services, and products that can be exported to other regions around the country and around the world thereby driving investments and growing jobs.

Going green and growing green

This is a pivotal moment in history, as we collectively start down the path to the “new normal.” This bittersweet opportunity to rebuild our lives with longevity and resiliency in mind should not be wasted. Now, more than ever, by investing in renewable energies like offshore wind and community solar, maximizing our energy efficiency, and electrifying transportation, we can ensure a healthier future exists alongside a thriving clean-energy economy. In fact, the New York Times reported last month that renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21% of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, noting that industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year, even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle. This is good for the environment and for workers — according to the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages compared with all workers nationally. In addition, clean-energy wages are more equitable; workers at lower ends of the income spectrum can earn more per hour than in other jobs.

As we work toward this goal, consider how you might support the new clean-energy economy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, if everyone reduced their electricity footprint by just 2%, we could reduce annual emissions in New Jersey by approximately 75 tons of sulfur dioxide, 225 tons of nitrogen oxide and over 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The next time you need to replace an item in your home, consider choices like LED lightbulbs and more energy-efficient appliances, doors and windows and insulation. With transportation contributing to the majority of greenhouse-gas emissions, transitioning to electric vehicles is a critical component as well, something New Jersey is helping support with our recently launched Charge Up New Jersey $5,000 electric vehicle rebate.

Ultimately, each of us has a role to play in rebuilding our lives even stronger than before. Clean energy and its benefits will be critical not only to our recovery from this pandemic, but to our health and prosperity for generations to come.