Can New Jersey Use 80 Percent Renewable Energy by 2050?

A state Senate bill sets the most aggressive targets ever to address climate change. It would require 80 percent of the electricity in the state to come from renewable sources by 2050. The bill is facing an uphill battle against business interests and the state Division of Rate Counsel who warn already high energy costs would climb even higher. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Smith, chairs the Energy Committee and joins NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams from Trenton.

Williams: How does the state get its ratio of renewable energy up 80 percent by the year 2050?

Smith: It’s not that hard, Mary Alice. The state is one of the major leaders in the installation of solar energy from the United State of America. We’re third of four on the list. We could be better. We actually at one point were number two. What we’ve done in past years, not the last six and a half years, but before that, we’ve passed legislation that stimulated the solar industry in our state. We actually passed legislation that also encouraged wind but we’re now waiting five years for the Board of Public Utilities.

Williams: We can’t get wind off the ground, right?

Smith: We can’t get it off the ground. Our Board of Public Utilities is totally useless. They’ve been five years telling us that they’re going to do rules and regulations and when the president came into the Judiciary Committee, which I sit on, I said, “Where are those rules?” and he said, “Well we’ve just hired a consultant.” So, it’s kind of shameless that this state with 130 miles of coastline that is vulnerable to climate change, and if you don’t believe in that shame on you, that’s so vulnerable and costs billions of dollars to deal with it among other things that we’re not doing more in the renewable area, even though like I said we’re third of four.

Williams: Let’s talk about money. It always comes down to money. Detractors of this bill cite the cost as a constraint in putting all these programs into place. How much would your proposal cost the state and taxpayers?

Smith: And the answer is not much. And the reason that I can say that with confidence is that over the last 10 to 15 years the cost of solar has so dramatically decreased that it is almost, almost at the cost point equal to traditional energy sources. And by the way that’s not so easy to do because you have all this new natural gas production in the United State of America that has dramatically lowered carbon fuel costs. But carbon fuels at the end of the day are doing us in on climate change and we have to get away from those carbon fuels and we have to get to renewables if we have any hope of combating this climate change that makes New Jersey so vulnerable to climate attack.

Williams: What are the state’s current energy portfolio?

Smith: We have over 10,000 solar facilities in the state. Now a lot of those are rooftop solar, but we could be the Saudi Arabia of solar energy. We have literally millions and millions of square feet of warehouse roofs in this state that don’t have solar panels on them. We, like I said, we could be generating so much solar electricity. We’d be selling it to other states because it would be in excess. But we have barriers that prevent us from doing that, namely a very lackadaisical Board of Public Utilities, but also there’s some institutional barriers. For example, warehouse owners are afraid to install solar because they have roof warranties.

Williams: And there’s an upfront cost as well.

Smith: Right, but the … cost of solar is at a price point where it’s extremely advantageous to the owner. They can do what’s called net metering which means that all of the electricity that’s generated on site can be used for their needs and they can sell off site.

Williams: This bill, virtually the same, was pocket vetoed by the governor last time around. Is there any chance of this passing under the current governor?

Smith: I think there’s a chance and I’ll tell you why even though the Koch brothers weigh very heavily on energy policy in the state of New Jersey. One of the differences between a pocket veto and a regular veto is that when you do a regular veto you have to explain why. I can’t wait to see what his explanation is. The economics have gotten so much better and the vulnerability of New Jersey has gotten so much worse that it literally is a no-brainer for this state and other states to be doing more and more renewable.