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Op-Ed: NJ Voters Way Ahead of Washington on Renewable Energy

Public opinion in New Jersey overwhelmingly supports a clean energy future. It’s the job of state legislators ‘to make sure it happens sooner rather than later’

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker

The story goes that when he was building automobiles amid great public skepticism about new-fangled, gas-powered machines, Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Today, though, when it comes to heating, cooling, and powering their lives, New Jerseyans have no such doubts about the need for a shift in our energy sources that will be just as transformative as going from horses to cars.

I hear this in conversations with people all over New Jersey, and now a statewide poll confirms it.

The people of our state overwhelmingly favor renewable energy — like wind and solar — and they want us to move to a completely clean energy future faster than we are heading today.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll commissioned by ReThink Energy NJ found support for renewable energy to be strong among all demographic groups, consistent with the way New Jerseyans think about environmental issues in general. Of those surveyed, 75 percent said they support a goal of 100 percent renewable energy for New Jersey, and 74 percent support offshore wind, specifically.

Wind and solar energy: ‘economic sense’

The severity of the need for such change was brought home dramatically in the recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body that assesses the science related to climate change. Its report, relying on 91 scientists from 40 countries analyzing more than 6,000 scientific studies, concluded that the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees over preindustrial levels by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate — which would bring the threat of catastrophic flooding to the Jersey Shore.

Preventing that level of warming would require reducing greenhouse gas pollution by nearly half from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. For that to happen, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would have to rise to about 67 percent of the world’s energy mix, from the present 20 percent.

Harnessing the sun and wind isn’t just good for the Earth, it makes sound economic sense. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the people surveyed expressed a willingness to pay $10 to $15 more per month in energy bills if that energy clearly comes from wind or solar.

Christie policies being reversed

New Jerseyans want their energy to be renewable and home grown — which wind and solar are. Two-thirds say the state should invest more in developing renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels. And, 58 percent say the state is moving too slowly on developing and adopting clean energy sources.

The good news is that policies of the Christie administration — which were more in step with what’s coming out of Washington these days than the will of the public — are being reversed.

At Gov. Murphy’s direction, the state Board of Public Utilities is developing a 2019 Energy Master Plan that he says should be a comprehensive blueprint for totally converting New Jersey’s energy production profile to clean sources by January 1, 2050. The plan is to provide specific proposals to be implemented over the next 10 years to make that goal a reality.

Further, the plan will include the most ambitious offshore wind development goals in the nation and provisions for continued development of solar energy, including community solar projects.

Way ahead of Trump administration

These are all good moves that will make New Jersey a cleaner, healthier state and make us a leader in energy innovation, creating thousands of jobs and spurring new industries, as the governor recently proposed with regard to offshore wind power.

The Fairleigh Dickinson poll also provided encouraging news about attitudes toward climate change. Three-quarters of New Jerseyans are very, or somewhat, concerned with climate change and 65 percent believe climate change is driven by human activity. As a scientist, I can’t help but wish those numbers were closer to 100 percent but, still, the fact is that people in New Jersey are way ahead of the Trump administration and the majority in Congress. When asked whether New Jersey should follow Washington’s lead or set its own course, investing in clean, renewable energy sources, almost three out of four chose the latter.

Sometimes, those of us elected to develop farsighted policies that benefit everyone’s well-being need to overcome withering opposition to what’s right (think “war on coal”). But in New Jersey today, this is not one of those times. Public opinion in our state overwhelmingly supports a clean energy future. As leaders, our job is to make sure it happens sooner rather than later.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker is a physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. He chairs the Assembly Committee on Science, Innovation and Technology.

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