Murphy touts progress on green energy. Is it enough?

Gov. Phil Murphy and his top Board of Public Utilities executive touted a year’s worth of green energy triumphs — logging more than 100,000 solar power installations, taking bids to produce 1100 megawatts of offshore wind energy, and holding utility companies accountable for snowstorm responses. Murphy’s ultimate goal: making New Jersey’s energy sources 100% renewable by 2050.

“As governor, I have made future-focused energy policy based on the transformation of New Jersey to a renewable energy economy a top priority,” Murphy said.

“Well, I’m happy to say because of our efforts here our carbon footprint decreased last year,” said BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso.

It’s a 180-degree pivot from the prior Christie administration, which yanked Jersey out of regional climate accords and left the wind industry to languish. Murphy’s BPU is actively promoting wind and solar, plus energy efficiency, to cut the state’s carbon footprint. But it comes with costly infrastructure upgrades at an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion worth of requested utility rate hikes and subsidies.

“We’re addressing our system, our infrastructure, our need to move to renewables, but we also have to make sure we still maintain affordability because shut-offs are also up and we have to make sure that people can still afford the basic services,” said Stefanie Brand, head of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel.

New Jersey’s Rate Counsel cited one survey, showing that after declining between 2014 and 2015, utility customer shut-offs by PSE&G increased by more than than 5% from 2015 to 2017, from almost 149,969 to 157,901 customer shut-offs. Yet PSE&G’s requested $6.6 billion in rate hikes and $900 million in subsidies for PSEG’s nuclear power plants, according to the AARP. It’s costs passed on to customers.

“The number of people having difficulty paying their bills is increasing,” said Brand, “and so what we’re doing is going through, very carefully, the filings we’re getting from the utilities.”

In a statement, PSE&G claimed the increase in shut-offs “ … was the result of some changes we made in how we manage our operations,” adding, “ … we want to keep as many customers in service as possible. We encourage those who may have trouble paying their bills to contact us as soon as possible so we can try and help.”

Meanwhile, environmental advocates worriedly pointed to four proposed gas-powered plants and miles of proposed new pipelines and demanded a moratorium.

“There’s enough power being produced by those gas plants, it’s the same amount as this proposed for offshore wind. And if they get built first, it means it will undercut his ability to do offshore wind,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

“If we are serious about the threat of climate change, we need to ensure there’s a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state. And ideally the new Energy Master Plan can lay out that vision,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

The state’s highly-anticipated Energy Master Plan will give everyone a better idea of where this administration’s headed on energy. It’s due June 1.