Christie's energy plan for NJ praised, criticized

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Jersey's long term energy plan was praised Tuesday by energy advocates for promoting the installation of solar panels on brownfields and landfills, and criticized for failing to do enough to promote energy efficiency.

More than 150 people filled a room for the first of three public hearings on Gov. Chris Christie's vision for meeting the state's energy needs for the next 10 years. Additional hearings on the draft energy master plan are scheduled for in Trenton and Pomona next month.

The suggestions presented during the public sessions could make their way into the final plan, which might be adopted by the end of the year. The state revisits its energy plan every three years and is required to revise it at least every decade.

Stefanie Brand, who represents ratepayers through the Public Advocate's Office, said rapidly changing technology and fluctuating energy demands make such reviews necessary.

The plan Christie unveiled in June promotes green technologies like solar and off-shore wind and leaves the door open for a new nuclear power plant to replace one that will be retired in eight years. An overarching goal is to keep consumer energy prices manageable. Other goals include capitalizing on emerging technology, promoting green jobs and encouraging economic growth in the energy industry.

Christie's plan calls for 22.5 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2021, a point of contention among some environmentalists who believe the target should be 30 percent. The Legislature sets the targets.

After signing a bill promoting mass transit elsewhere in Newark on Tuesday, Christie defended his energy strategy. He said the goal of 22.5 percent from renewable sources is achievable and sufficiently ambitious when compared with the 2.3 percent from green sources the state gets now. He called the goal of 30 percent "unrealistic."

However, the chairman of the Assembly Environment Committee, Democrat John McKeon, said Christie's plan is "counterproductive and regressive."

"By reducing our renewable energy goals and increasing our dependence on fossil fuels, Gov. Christie's Energy Master Plan would be taking a giant step backward," said McKeon of Essex County.

Much of Tuesday's hearing testimony focused on solar energy.

Terry Sobolewski of the Solar Alliance, a group of 30 solar companies, said the draft plan undersells the benefits and potential of the solar market.

For example, he said the plan doesn't consider the health benefits of green energy like solar, and it doesn't fairly state "the amplified effect" the technology brings because it generates the most benefit on warm, sunny days when demand and cost are at their peak.

Brand said the plan's migration away from residential solar projects to industrial-sized solar installations on brownfields is a positive step. Though other solar company executives testified of the benefits of continuing to subsidize residential solar installations.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin reported Monday that the state had set a one-month record for new solar installations in June and that solar sources were now generating 380 megawatts of power, the equivalent of a small power plant. He said the installation of solar panels on brownfields and landfills "makes sense economically and environmentally - we're taking care of two problems at the same time."

Utility customers now pay about 63 cents per month to subsidize solar energy projects.

Franklin Neubauer, who runs an energy research company, Core Metrics, said the master plan draft doesn't have clear energy efficiency goals and lacks basic data on energy efficiency savings and how it would be achieved.

"The administration needs to be more visionary," he said. "A truly green energy future means aggressively ramping up energy efficiency efforts no later than 2012."

Afterward, the Sierra Club complained that 41 members had signed up to testify but none were called.

"They were screening who gets to speak," director Jeff Tittel said in a press release.


Associated Press reporter David Porter contributed to this report.

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