New Jersey’s efforts to attract green jobs to the state and promote solar and wind power projects could be derailed by deep cuts in clean energy programs proposed by the Christie administration, environmentalists and lawmakers said.
As part of his plan to plug an $11 billion hole in next year’s state budget, Gov. Chris Christie proposed diverting $65 million in funds from a global climate program, siphoning off another $42 million from its clean energy program and tapping $13.9 million from a special fund paid by businesses to make the state’s energy sector more competitive.
"The shame of this is that all of this goes to produce jobs. It looks like a pretty counterproductive cut," said Sen. Robert Smith (D- Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee. "I think it guts the program for at least one year."
The proposed cuts come on top of earlier diversion of clean energy funds by the Christie administration to resolve a budget deficit in the current state budget, which ends June 30. In those cuts, $158 million in clean energy funds were diverted, as well as $128 million from the state’s Retail Margin Fund, a surcharge paid by businesses stemming from the deregulation of the energy sector.
Despite the cuts, Board of Public Utilities President Lee Solomon said the state would find enough money to fully fund all clean energy projects, including projects to build combined heat-power plants, which were to be financed by the Retail Margin Fund.
“I am confident we will meet all of our obligations to promote clean, safe energy at affordable rates,’’ Solomon said after Christie’s hour-long budget speech.
New Jersey has established very aggressive goals for having 30 percent of the state’s electricity produced by renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind, by 2020. It also has adopted a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey by 80 percent by 2050, a goal even advocates of the effort concede will be difficult to achieve.
In the budget, Christie recommends eliminating funding for the Office of Climate Change and Energy within the state Department of Environmental Protection as part of the diversion of $65 million in funds raised by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an agreement among Northeast states. It taxes energy producers who emit greenhouse gases, using the funds to promote clean energy projects, energy conservation and other uses.
"It’s a major step backwards," said Jeff Tittel, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club of New Jersey. "These programs are at a critical juncture where they are about ready to take off. When it comes to global warming, this budget is a lot of hot air."
Assemblyman Upendra Chivikula (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, said he will work to find other money to fund the clean energy programs, which, otherwise, would be set back by the administration’s cuts. "I don’t think we can afford to go back and step away from these programs," he said.
In addition to the clean energy diversions, the budget of the BPU was reduced by $3.8 million, even though it is funded by the gas, electric and other utilities overseen by the agency. Solomon said he plans to work with the Department of Treasury to find ways to reduce the assessment charged to utilities.