State puts more muscle behind push for clean energy

BPU adopts initiatives to curb energy use for electric and gas customers, roll out charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and evaluate smart meters
Credit: Green Energy Futures via Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Increasing insulation is a basic way to increase energy efficiency.

The state sought to advance its clean-energy agenda in ways big and small Wednesday, adopting measures dealing with reducing customer energy use, promoting the electrification of the transportation sector and spurring the installation of smart meters.

In its bimonthly meeting, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved a nearly $1 billion plan to allow Public Service Electric & Gas to invest in curbing its customers’ electric and gas use — the state’s largest commitment ever to spending on energy efficiency.

The PSE&G proposal to spend $970 million over three years on 10 energy-efficiency programs is the first utility initiative to be approved under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy two years ago that requires utilities to significantly cut electric and gas consumption. The proposal could be extended another six years under BPU rules. It could set a framework for the three other electric utilities, which are required to submit their own energy-efficiency programs by tomorrow.

Shrinking customers’ carbon footprints

“Today’s decision will allow us to bring the benefits of energy efficiency to every customer and give them options to reduce their energy use, save money and shrink their carbon footprint,” Ralph Izzo, PSEG’s chairman, CEO and president said.

The company claims the program will save customers $1 billion over the three years, create up to 4,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas by 8 million metric tons of carbon emissions. “It’s the right mix, the smart mix and it is coming at the right time,’’ said David Daly, president of PSE&G.

The program includes rebates for energy-efficient appliances and equipment, free or affordable audits and energy-efficiency kits. The program was designed with special emphasis on meeting the needs of low-income, multifamily and small-business customers.

The approval also includes an opportunity for the utility to recover lost revenues from the energy-saving measures it takes that reduce customers’ gas, and for the first time, electric use.

A first for decoupling

“This will be the first electric efficiency portfolio to decouple profits from sales,’’ said Erin Cosgrove, director of regulatory affairs for the Energy Efficiency Alliance for New Jersey. “PSE&G will not receive payment from energy sales, but from performing energy-efficiency work for ratepayers all across their territory. This will in turn lower energy costs for everyone.’’

BPU president Joseph Fiordaliso noted energy efficiency is one of the major components of the state’s clean-energy goals, while acknowledging the PSE&G energy-efficiency proposal had some controversy associated with it.

“Wait until you see the finished product; the finished product is excellent,’’ Fiordaliso said.

Next step toward charging stations

Another aspect of that clean-energy agenda moved forward when the commissioners later adopted a plan to set the parameters for the buildout of publicly accessible charging stations for light-duty electric vehicles.

The transportation sector contributes 42% of greenhouse-gas emissions and that particularly impacts communities already overburdened with air pollution. The administration hopes to get 330,000 EVs on the road by 2025, a target it looks to achieve by installing 1,000 EV charging stations by the end of that year.

For the most part, the plan adopted by the board focuses on attracting private capital into the electric-vehicle sector and substituting shareholder money instead of ratepayer capital whenever possible.

Under the board’s plan, utilities would be mostly responsible for wiring and the backbone infrastructure to make locations ready for cost-efficient electric-vehicle service equipment. In addition, utilities could be designated as “builders of last resort’’ in urban areas where the private sector is not committing resources to build charging stations.

So far, two utilities, PSE&G and Atlantic City Electric, have submitted petitions to the agency to build out charging infrastructure in their territories, although no action has been taken. The other two electric utilities — Jersey Central Power & Light and Rockland Electric — were directed by the BPU to file plans by next February.

In the matter of metering

In another matter, the board designated commissioners to review proposals by JCP&L and ACE to install advanced metering infrastructure, including smart meters, within their service territories. Much of the country has advanced metering, and it has been touted as a way to reduce service outages.

That issue is being assessed in a review of how utilities responded to widespread power outages from a tropical storm this past August, according to Fiordaliso. “Is it the time to pull the trigger on this? I don’t know,’’ he said.

That question will now be resolved in hearings that are expected to last into next year.