Lowering the Bar – Bad for New Jersey

In a densely populated state with few indigenous traditional sources of energy, the cost, safety, and reliability of New Jersey’s energy supply present significant challenges. Energy prices are rising, the capacity for energy distribution is becoming strained, and environmental impact is a major concern. Some of those challenges were addressed today at a joint Senate/Assembly hearing in Toms River co-chaired by Senator Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon.

By law, the state must issue an Energy Master Plan (EMP) that documents the administration’s “strategic vision for the use, management, and development of energy in New Jersey over the next decade.” The plan must be revised every three years.

Governor Christie’s draft EMP was the topic of today’s hearings.  Prior to these discussions, hearings were conducted by the governor’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU). I did not attend those, but from the information I have, those hearings were biased toward the traditional electrical power generation and distribution industries. By contrast, today’s hearings gave environmentalists and activists an opportunity to be heard.

A significant bone of contention between the Democrats and Republicans on the panel was the governor’s lowering the bar on the goal for renewable energy over the next decade. It was originally pegged at 30% of our total energy usage; the Christie administration reduced it to 22½%. While the governor contends that the more ambitious goal is unachievable, several experts testified that the 30% number was not a big stretch. This is especially true with the dramatic lowering of the cost of solar energy that has occurred over the past few years. Mike Pisuaro of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby pointed out that Maine has already reached the goal of 50% renewable energy. It should be noted that this reduction in dirty energy is a goal rather than a mandate. It’s better to closely achieve an aggressive goal than to coast to an easier achievable one. But lowering the bar, whether it is energy, service to citizens, or education, is the hallmark of the Christie administration.

Compounding the challenge is the fact that the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township is scheduled to shut down in 2019. Rather than construct the cooling towers that would protect the fragile Barnegat Bay environment, the plant’s operator, Excelon, has opted to shut the aging plant down. (See Jeff Tittel’s comments in the video, below.) Oyster Creek produces about one fifth of the state’s electricity, so if the plant does indeed close, that gap needs to be filled even as energy demands rise.

The Christie administration categorizes the various types of energy as “clean” and “not clean.” Amazingly, they put nuclear into the “clean” category. Granted, nuclear does not produce the CO2 emissions that we get from fossil fuels, but the dreck that accumulates at nuclear plants remains harmful to the environment for centuries, and this country has absolutely no plan for the safe transport and storage of this rapidly accumulating waste. So I’m disappointed in Assemblyman McKeon’s remarks regarding a replacement for Oyster Creek in the video, below.

Senator Bob Smith lamented that the governor’s plan ignores the fact that 40% of New Jersey’s energy consumption comes from transportation, and he hopes to address this issue in future legislation.

Republican Assemblyman Scott Rudder, whose positions on issues are usually opposite of mine, brought up an important point that is not handled adequately in the governor’s plan. With the increase in solar and wind power, it will become more of a challenge to match instantaneous demand with production. This is because unlike fuel-burning plants, the output of wind and solar is intermittent and difficult to predict over time. Rudder would like to see the plan address energy storage in order to more effectively smooth out the peaks and valleys of the demand curve.

The BPU has another hearing scheduled for next week, and the legislature may or may not conduct additional hearings.

Senator Smith noted that the two seminal inventions of the last 150 years were the electric light bulb and the transistor. Both were invented in New Jersey. Now is the time for another Jersey breakthrough – the displacement of dirty oil, coal, gas, and nuclear with affordable and reliable renewable energy.

Assemblyman McKeon’s Remarks on the Energy Master Plan

NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel’s Remarks on the Energy Master Plan

Unfortunately, the state’s best energy reporter, Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight, was not at the hearings today (I was told he’s on vacation). But if you’re concerned about where New Jersey is headed and want a non-partisan view (which this is not) of the state of the state of energy in New Jersey, check out Tom’s writing at NJSpotlight.com.

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