Updating the state’s energy master plan presents specific set of challenges

You can kill the lights and watch the thermostat, but the committee drafting New Jersey’s new energy master plan wants big ideas about cutting energy consumption and saving money.

“The energy that we do not use is the cheapest form of energy,” said Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey.

The master plan that’s due next June will help guide New Jersey toward Gov. Phil Murphy’s goal of making Jersey a 100 percent clean energy state by 2050. Already his administration is fostering new wind and solar power industries and moving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Using energy efficiently by reducing demand is critical, but problematic.

“There is no meter to measure how much energy we’re saving, at least not at the state level. That poses a challenge,” said Franklin Neubauer, a consultant at Core Metrics.

Take rebates for buying energy-efficient appliances, or installing new windows.

“Better weatherization, putting in LED light bulbs, getting rid of the always-on TVs and cable boxes, you would reduce energy use by 30 percent on the average home. Think about that. How many fewer pipelines and power plants would we need if we did that?” asked the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel.

“We can make a difference when we can hear from diverse stakeholders, and Princeton Student Climate Initiative has taken this mindset to heart,” said Will Atkinson, a member of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative.

But advocates argued rewards for energy reduction need to be fairly distributed — not totally focused on folks who can afford upgrades.

“So we challenge the BPU [Board of Public Utilities] and the environmentalists and everyone here in the room to come up with approaches that will reward the efforts that lower-income people make to reduce their energy uses just as much as those of higher-income people,” said Nancy Griffeth, chair of the environmental justice task force at UU Faith Action New Jersey.

New Jersey Natural Gas explained its energy audit programs don’t just benefit affluent customers.

“About 30 percent of the audits we go on, we cannot help those customers even though the customer’s interested, we’ve already made the effort to get out there, because of structural and safety issues with the premises. So we need to try to improve that,” the director of conservation and clean energy at New Jersey Natural Gas, Anne-Marie Peracchio, said.

Another complication is the governor and lawmakers continue to raid New Jersey’s Clean Energy Fund to help balance the budget, and officials must convince businesses to make their buildings energy efficient.

“And do this by considering property tax incentives for commercial buildings that seed a specified energy efficiency score. This would require all commercial buildings to be audited and scored using the energy star program,” said Richard Lawton, executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council.

Businesses can save money by saving energy, but they need guidance.

“His electric bill was lower this year than last year, even though it’s an air-conditioned space. If that doesn’t tell you it works, I don’t know what does. But if I was not there to help him walk through it as a courtesy, it wouldn’t have gotten done,” said Wayne DeFeo, an environmental consultant at DeFeo Associates.

The committee will review all of the comments. There will be three more public hearings on building a better energy master plan for New Jersey. The next one’s scheduled for Sept. 20.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III.