Op-Ed: Our vulnerable communities are key building blocks of a cleaner, healthier and wealthier NJ

‘Clean Energy Equity Act…ensures that New Jersey’s overburdened communities benefit from clean-energy access, energy savings and job opportunities’
solar panelsCredit: Creative Commons
New coalition wants a quarter-million low-income families to go solar by 2030 and $125 million annually in state funding to achieve those goals.

Low-income families who suffer with energy insecurity benefit the most from lower monthly electric bills, local jobs and a more resilient community.

Landmark legislation that will help reduce the energy burden of low-income households using solar and energy efficiency is right now awaiting action at the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. Low-income households include our elderly, our veterans, our disabled and our single-parent homes.

The Clean Energy Equity Act (S-2484/A-4185), sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), ensures that New Jersey’s overburdened communities benefit from clean-energy access, energy savings and job opportunities. This bill reinforces Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to New Jersey achieving 100% clean energy by 2050, an ambitious target that makes our state a national leader on climate action.

The Clean Energy Equity Act has already passed the state Senate and has the support of climate activists, solar workers, the Board of Public Utilities and scores of everyday New Jerseyans.

Hitting a roadblock

Now, in the final stretch, we’ve hit a major roadblock. The bill has been stalled in the Assembly’s Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer). The committee just held its final scheduled meeting of the session, and despite all of the bill’s support, committee members did not vote on the Clean Energy Equity Act.

There is one last chance to get the bill passed and relieve the energy burden on New Jersey’s families and communities who need it most. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) must order one more committee meeting.

These are unprecedented times. The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it not only illness and tragic loss of life, but an economic recession that has greatly increased unemployment and energy insecurity. Many New Jersey residents are struggling to adequately meet basic household energy needs, feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Sadly, this is not new. It’s only worsened.

A crisis of energy insecurity

Before the pandemic hit, a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy demonstrated low-income households spend three times more of their income on energy costs compared to the median spending of non-low-income households. While this report measures energy burdens using 2017 data from the American Housing Survey (AHS), this recession has catapulted an ongoing crisis into a colossal increase of energy insecurity and higher energy burdens that will disproportionately impact our vulnerable neighbors in 2021 and beyond.

Research conducted at Columbia University found that families vulnerable to energy insecurity are at greater risk for health issues since they will routinely go without basic needs, such as food and medicine, to pay their energy bills. Clean energy and environmental justice initiatives will ensure that our underserved communities and communities of color have equitable access to clean energy with affordable options.

An era of tremendous challenge must be met by tremendous compassion. Reducing energy costs for families hardest hit in this pandemic must be paramount in the duties of our elected officials. The Clean Energy Equity Act is good for our people, it’s good for our state, and it is good for our economic recovery. Assembly Speaker Coughlin must reconvene the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee now.

All New Jerseyans stand to lose if he doesn’t.

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