BY JEFF TITTEL
Two weeks after pulling out of the (10-state) Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Governor Christie has placed polluting fossil fuels above clean energy in the revised New Jersey Energy Master Plan (EMP) released today.
The governor was a climate skeptic in October and now he acknowledges climate change is influenced by human actions, but it doesn’t matter what he thinks. His actions are what matter and now his administration has released a plan that scales back renewable and clean energy targets in favor of expanding in-state natural gas generation. New Jersey was on track to meet the aggressive clean energy goals outlined in the 2008 Energy Master Plan and these cuts will cost the state green jobs and economic stability, critical pollution reductions, and energy independence. Christie is working to rollback critical protections that cut carbon pollution, promote clean energy and bolster our state’s economy.
New Jersey is going from being a national clean energy leader to a state that takes the side of fossil fuels and nuclear over the environment and economy of New Jersey. Governor Christie is being fossil foolish.
The Energy Master Plan, which was one of the most visionary in the country, is now being used to justify more fossil fuels, nuclear, and powers line bringing in coal and gas lines bringing in Marcellus Shale gas.
Christie’s revised EMP and energy policies are dangerous for New Jersey’s clean energy programs and pollution reduction goals. Today the Governor announced:
Our Renewable Portfolio Standard will be slashed to 22.5 percent from the previous 30 percent goal
Fossil fuel use in New Jersey will be expanded
There will be cuts to the Societal Benefits Charge
Nuclear power will be expanded
This EMP directly undercuts our efforts at developing clean energy in New Jersey. The clean energy goals we are currently meeting are being rolled back. The EMP is EMP-TY and this plan undercuts our efforts.
While we are still analyzing the details of the revised EMP (the plan), the Sierra Club has some serious concerns. Christie is abandoning the 30 percent renewable goal established in the previous Energy Master Plan and will only work to meet our Renewable Portfolio Standard goal -- required by the Global Warming Response Act -- reducing our clean energy goals to 22.5 percent of electrical generation. That is significantly less than the previous EMP goal. New Jersey should be meeting the 30 percent goal and striving to go beyond it. New Jersey is second in the nation in solar installations with 300 MW added in new generation each year. There are currently proposals for 2500 MW of offshore wind coming close to our goal of 3,000 MW by 2020. A recent study by American Security Project found New Jersey could generate at least 31 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
We are on target to meet our EMP goals and we need to raise our renewable portfolio standard to meet those goals- not the other way around. We are going to meet or exceed our goals and the only thing stopping us is Chris Christie undermining our goals and changing the programs.
The EMP calls for the expansion of natural gas within New Jersey continuing our dependence on polluting fossil fuels. The governor signed legislation calling for more natural gas plants earlier this year. In January, the governor chose to promote fossil fuels over clean energy and the public health of New Jersey residents by signing a bill to subsidize the construction of four new natural gas generation plants. The legislation was a handout to special interest groups and a $2 billion energy tax on the residents of New Jersey.
The plan promotes more transmission lines that will bring in dirty coal power from the Midwest, such as the Susquehanna-Roseland line, the Branchburg-Ramapo line, and the Atlantic City Electric lines. The plan will allow more gas pipelines to transport gas from the Marcellus Shale region. Natural gas development in this region threatens the Delaware River Basin and the drinking water for 15 million people, 3 millions in New Jersey. Portions of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline expansion project is already under construction, and the company is seeking to expand even further along. The owners of the Spectra and Williams pipelines are also seeking expansions.
Despite the ongoing tragedy in Japan, the revised EMP calls for more nuclear energy in the state and a new plant in South Jersey at the Salem nuclear generating facility. The facility currently consists of three reactors located on an artificial island in the Delaware River. Nuclear energy is not in the best interest of public health and safety and our environment. Nuclear technology is unsafe and undermines investment in clean, safe energy sources and the creation of green jobs.
The Societal Benefits Charge will be overhauled to benefit businesses and exclude families and residents. This money went to green energy projects and helps poor families pay their electricity bills but is being transformed into a revolving loan program for businesses only. Residents will pay into the loan fund and will not be able to access the money. The plan also cuts funding and incentives for solar for families and residents.
The revised EMP is an environmental disaster and the governor is trying to hide behind no new coal plants while he dismantles clean energy programs and initiatives to fight climate change.
New Jersey would never be permitted to construct a new coal-fired power facility because we currently do not meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. There is only one proposed coal-fired power plant in New Jersey, the PurGen facility in Linden that proposes to capture and store carbon emissions underneath the sea bed 70 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. The PurGen project does not have the needed federal funding or federal regulations in place to make the project a reality.
Less than two weeks ago, the governor folded to corporate polluters and Tea Party conservatives and announced that New Jersey will be pulling out of RGGI. Americans for Prosperity admitted that they spent over $300,000 lobbying against RGGI in New Jersey alone. Leaving RGGI will be a major blow to New Jersey’s clean energy sector and will reverse major progress the state has made on reducing climate change pollution. Due in part to RGGI’s programs, global warming pollution is down 15%-30% since the initiative was launched and RGGI is directly responsible for creating or saving almost 18,000 jobs. The economy in the region has grown by more than $2.3 billion because of RGGI. The first 12 projects in New Jersey funded by RGGI proceeds helped New Jersey businesses generate over 167,000 megawatt hours of clean energy per year, equal to the amount of energy consumed by 19,600 households per year, and reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 84,000 metric tons.
The governor’s energy policies have resulted in the price of solar renewable credits dropping in half. The governor’s actions have been irresponsible and could destroy our solar energy industry in New Jersey. We are second in the nation in solar installations and have 25 megawatts a month of clean energy coming online.
The revised EMP and withdrawal from RGGI continue the governor’s attacks on clean energy and cutting climate change pollution and jeopardize New Jersey’s leadership on clean energy. Last year the BPU slashed the Clean Energy Fund by $158 million. The cuts included a freeze on solar rebates followed by cutting the solar, furnaces, hot water heaters and air conditioner rebates in half. In this year’s budget a further $52 million will be diverted from the Clean Energy Fund, with $42.5 million going to pay for energy costs for state buildings and $10 million going toward energy efficiency in state buildings. The cuts have been coupled with deliberate attacks on the SREC program with attempts to lower the value of credits and reduce incentives, destabilizing the credit market and making it harder for installers and renewable energy businesses to borrow money.
The governor diverted $128 million from the Retail Margin Fund last year to balance the budget and this year is proposing to eliminate the fund altogether. This money goes to businesses for clean energy programs such as building power plants, heat buildings, and produce electricity from natural gas.
The governor eliminated the Office of Climate Change from the state Department of Environmental Protection and recently pulled out of a lawsuit forcing power plants to reduce their green house gas emissions by 3 percent over ten years.
Top scientists at DEP, Princeton University, and Rutgers have provided compelling evidence that the effects of global warming on New Jersey would be devastating. Climate change would devastate our $40 billion coastal tourism industry, destroy forests, and hinder our cranberry industry and as well as other agriculture industries. Without New Jersey adopting a strong clean energy program through the EMP, we are going to find ourselves getting more of the impacts of global warming.
These rollbacks have resulted in New Jersey slipping in the national rankings on green job growth and energy efficiency measures. A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts on green job growth found that green jobs in New Jersey declined by 9.6 percent, placing New Jersey second to last on the list of job growth. The report goes on to say that the decline is the result of poor program implementation and lack of leadership. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy dropped New Jersey from its list of “top ten states” pursuing energy efficiency stating New Jersey had failed to establish a clear path toward implementation.
Pulling out of RGGI and other actions by the governor have hurt New Jersey’s clean energy companies, undermined clean energy programs, and costs New Jersey jobs. These policies undermine New Jersey’s economic growth by hurting clean energy businesses within the state. In the future green energy startups will not come to New Jersey, but will a pick another state.
New Jersey had some of the most robust goals for clean energy in country. The revised EMP not only undermines these goals but also clean energy programs, and will not only hurt the environment but the economy and jobs as well. New Jersey went from being a national leader on solar and wind and this EMP jeopardizes that leadership. We are meeting or exceeding our clean energy goals and Christie is jeopardizing our state’s clean energy future.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.