By Briana Vannozzi
“What happens today could impact New Jersey’s environment and economy for the next 50 years or more,” said NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Titell.
Some of the state’s top environmental and energy stakeholders turned out today for the first in a series of public hearings held by the Board of Public Utilities to hash out New Jersey’s energy master plan.
“California by next month will be passing the law, it’s almost certain, that will require 5o percent renewable electricity by 2050. New Jersey use to be a leader like that too, but isn’t anymore,” said Lyle Rawlings, President of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association.
The energy master plan — or EMP –was enacted by the Christie administration in 2011 to guide policies for energy use, development and management. It’s an updated version of a 2008 plan designed to: drive down the cost of energy for consumers; promote diversity of new, clean in-state generation; reward energy efficiency and reduce peak demand; capitalize on emerging technologies for power production and meet the standard of 22.5 percent renewable energy by 2021.
Environmental advocates clashed with the state, holding their own news conference and small rally before the hearing. They’re calling for a stronger, clean energy commitment and a phase-out of New Jersey’s two largest remaining coal plants in Hudson and Mercer counties. Coal plants are the largest contributors to carbon pollution in the U.S.
“The administration has ignored its own plans to combine heat and power. As Jeff mentioned we’ve fallen way down in the ranks in energy efficiency. It’s the best way for us to be saving money and to be fighting climate change and the administration continues to ignore it.” said Environment NJ Director Doug O’Malley
Advocates say harnessing clean energy resources would result in better health and more money in the pockets of New Jerseyans.
“For example 1,528 air pollution deaths can be avoided each year through this plan,” 350 NJ coordinator Rosemary Dreger Carey said.
“New Jersey has made good progress in achieving the five overarching goals. In 2010 New Jersey was ranked as the fourth highest average retail price for electricity for residential customers. The state now ranks number ten,” said Board of Public Utilities President Rich Mroz.
“While New Jersey’s ranking is down from where it was a few years ago, it’s not because electricity costs have gone down, instead other states have surpassed us with even higher prices prices,” said Stefanie Brand, Director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel.
Representatives from PSEG services corporation presented details on plans like the energy strong program, approved by the state, as a way to address the resiliency of the electric and gas network and an example of progress in the state.
There will be two more opportunities for public comment. The next will be held later this week at the State House in Trenton, which these protesters take issue with. They say the daytime scheduling of the hearings limit public discourse and the overall discussion.