ENVIRONMENT

Murphy administration releases long-awaited Energy Master Plan

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Environmental and consumer advocates describe a new energy future featuring plug-in electric cars, offshore wind, solar and nuclear power. They all play major roles in Gov. Phil Murphy’s long-awaited Energy Master Plan that aims at achieving a 100% clean energy economy by 2050 — significantly reducing carbon pollution mostly by targeting fossil-fueled cars and homes.

“For the first time it aggressively tackles electrification of our transportation sector which no other plan has done. It talks about the need to move off gas for home heating,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

“This plan is concrete, measurable steps that can be taken between now and that 2050 goal that we can hold ourselves accountable and our children can hold us accountable for,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The ambitious, 108-page plan lists seven major strategies to hit its clean energy goal. They include switching to electric cars and charging stations; upgrading to electrically-heated homes and businesses; fast-tracking new sources like offshore wind and solar; maximizing energy efficiency; expanding New Jersey’s power distribution grid; helping underserved communities; and growing the clean-energy innovation economy. New Jersey’s Director of the Division of Rate Counsel, Stefanie Brand, urged caution.

“They’re talking about electrifying pretty much everything, so that’s going to be expensive,” said Brand.

New Jersey’s rate counsel applauded the goals, but urged caution to shield ratepayers who are already obligated to subsidize New Jersey’s nuclear fleet by $300 million a year — which she’s challenged in court.

“We need to do these things, but if we did it all at once, then I think our rates would become unaffordable,” said Brand.”There really aren’t any hard numbers. I’m hoping they come. I think that they need to come. There’s a lot of work. I see this as a launchpad. I don’t see this as the end.”

Right now, New Jersey gets only 5% of its energy from renewable sources. The rest comes from nuclear power and natural gas. It’s natural gas, which heats 75% of New Jersey homes, that’s the sticking point.

“The plan does not address that issue and essentially keeps, for the time being, the state’s heavy reliance on natural gas,” said Tom Johnson, environment and energy writer for NJ Spotlight.

And that ticks off environmentalists who’ve protested several proposed new power plants and gas pipelines and called for a moratorium on gas infrastructure.

“It doesn’t make sense for the state to build out additional gas and fossil fuel infrastructure while we’re making plans to move to that clean energy future,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ.

“It sort of goes against where a lot of the public is right now, even legislators, because we know that we’ll never get to 100% renewable energy unless we stop all this fossil foolishness and all these power plants and pipelines,” said NJ Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel.

The plan’s just a draft. There will be public hearings before it’s adopted. Here’s the catch: a Master Plan that runs through 2050 will require governors after Murphy to stay the course.