Renewable energy: Save money and our land, water, air and health

By Michele S. Byers

Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a new law that requires New Jersey to get half of its power from renewable energy by 2030, and he’s setting the bar even higher with a goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2050, which should be defined to mean 100 percent renewable energy. Right now, renewable energy makes up about 15 percent of our power.

So how can we get from 15 percent to 50 percent to 100 percent?

New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, currently undergoing an update, will provide a roadmap to achieving these ambitious goals. The state Board of Public Utilities is now holding public hearings and asking for written comments.

The encouraging news is that a 100 percent renewable energy future is not only possible, but can be more affordable than our current reliance on fossil fuels.

Barb Blumenthal, an energy expert and researcher with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, testified at a Board of Public Utilities hearing that this state we’re in has the potential to reach a renewable energy future that reduces air pollution emissions and reduces costs for consumers.

“New Jersey’s renewable energy future can be lower-cost than a future that relies on natural gas,” stated Blumenthal. “A smart portfolio of renewable energy resources could now offer the lowest-cost pathway to provide reliable electricity by 2050.”

The reason for the low cost is simple: Underlying economics increasingly favor renewable energy over gas. In fact, Blumenthal believes new natural gas projects “face the very real risk of becoming financial disasters for their investors and owners after 2030, if not sooner.”

So how can New Jersey achieve both renewable energy and low costs? One way is to look at how other states are moving away from fossil fuels. Blumenthal said other states – most notably Hawaii, California and Minnesota – are using sophisticated computer models.

These state-of-the-art models consider all types of power, including nuclear, gas, coal, hydro, solar and wind. They also look at all possible combinations of generation, flexible load, transmission and storage. The models come up with long-term plans for replacing fossil fuels with renewables.

Blumenthal said New Jersey should use similar models.

“This work is essential to preserve a healthy planet, to support a vibrant economy and to provide low-cost energy,” she testified.

Blumenthal also emphasized that natural gas is not clean energy: It’s actually the primary source of New Jersey’s current emissions from electricity generation.

New Jersey voters are getting the message. A new survey of the state’s registered voters, conducted by the Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll for ReThink Energy NJ, found that 66 percent do not consider natural gas as clean energy. This is a 23-point increase since 2016!

The same poll revealed that three of every four respondents want New Jersey to achieve a goal of 100 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said the state should invest more in renewable energy sources than in fossil fuels and pipelines. Two out of three (66 percent) said they are willing to pay $10 or $15 more per month for solar or wind energy in order to reduce emissions.

Solar, more than natural gas (44 percent to 26 percent), is seen as most important to the state’s energy future, and 74 percent support the development of offshore wind energy.

Approximately eight out of 10 voters said they are concerned about proposed new gas pipelines, including impacts on natural areas and wildlife habitats (81 percent), the seizure of private property by energy companies (81 percent), risks to air and water quality (79 percent), and the targeting of protected natural areas like the Pine Barrens (78 percent).

Two-thirds (67 percent) said the jobs created by pipelines are not worth the environmental and health risks, and the state should instead create jobs through clean, renewable energy projects.

The last of the Board of Public Utilities’ public meetings on the Energy Master Plan are scheduled for Oct. 4 in Newark and Oct. 20 in Camden. Go to https://www.nj.gov/emp/docs/pdf/Publid-Notice-EMP-Additional.pdf for more details. Written comments will be accepted through Oct. 12 at the email address EMP.comments@bpu.nj.gov

Please tell the Board of Public Utilities that New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan should facilitate a rapid transition to 100 percent renewable energy, like appropriately sited solar and wind projects, while preventing ratepayer dollars from being wasted on unneeded natural gas infrastructure that should not be considered clean energy.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at info@njconservation.org

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