With the Governor on vacation and Senator Sweeney’s bombast being supplanted by the hand wringing surrounding the Casey Anthony verdict, you would think that Trenton’s name-calling and argumentative style would be on hiatus, and you would be wrong.
Who would come to Trenton on a sleepy Friday afternoon in the summertime to discuss things like “renewable energy certificates”, “reliability pricing models”, and “long-term capacity agreement pilot program” other than energy wonks?
Seriously, the panel discussion held today, titled “New Jersey’s Thirst for Power” did not refer to the governor’s denigration of the state supreme court or of the legislature, but was about a topic that impacts all citizens, both human and corporate, alike.
Organized by NJ Spotlight (and, it should be noted, with sponsorship by stakeholders in the energy industry) the four panelists laid out their positions.
In one corner were the regulators, Lee Solomon and Stefanie Brand. Solomon is President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, who was appointed by Governor Christie and had worked under Christie previously when our governor was a U.S. prosecutor. He also served in the New Jersey Assembly. Brand is the Director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, an organization whose mandate is to regulate utility rates.
In the other corner were Glen Thomas and Paul Fremont. Thomas is President of the P3 Group, an industry group that lobbies in the regions covered by the PJM Consortium that supplies electric power in 13 states. He had previously advised Governors Ridge (PA) and Schwarzenegger (CA) on energy policy. Fremont is an analyst who advises utility investors.
I was discouraged that there were no environmentalists or citizen-advocates on the panel.
Someone (like me) with little knowledge of the utility industry and regulatory process could be easily befuddled by the ongoing discussions. Depending on who you choose to line up with, you can be persuaded that New Jersey either has a glut of generating capacity or we will be seeing rolling blackouts in the near future. You can believe that we need to pay more attention to the power generation side or the power transmission side. You can believe that the Federal government is a major impediment to bringing down utility costs or that New Jersey is moving along nicely in addressing a significant portion of its need through wind power. You can believe that the current cost of energy is the fault of prior administrations who locked in high fuel prices or that there’s too much (or too little) regulation or too much (or too little) in the way of subsidies. You can believe that building power plants that run on natural gas is a good idea because that fuel is abundant and cheap, or you can believe that natural gas prices are about to explode.
Clearly, this is a complicated area not well-understood by the lay person. In that respect, it seems very similar to another complicated area that was also not well-understood by outsiders: the area of investment banking, deregulation, and greed – all in the name of corporate profits – that led to the financial meltdown of Wall Street and the devastation of the American economy. Indeed, it was the shenanigans of the energy industry that brought down Governor Gray Davis in California eight years ago.
While the name-calling and arguments over facts at the panel discussion were entertaining, they point out that the public is generally out of the loop on the important strategy and tactics that will affect all of us as the thirst for energy goes unchecked. Serious policy decisions are being made by elected officials on complex matters. Wouldn’t it be nice if an outfit like
NJN NJTV could do an impartial investigation on energy costs and find a way to educate New Jersey citizens on something that we all have a stake in?
So while the participants each had their say, arguing among themselves, (and no one got struck by lightning), there was no real progress at this event. It is incumbent on our elected officials to come up with a long-term strategy that balances the demand for electricity, the rates people pay, the impediments and incentives for power-hungry businesses, and the fragile environment.