August 21, 2011

NJ renewable energy proposal debated

New Jersey’s proposed energy policy calls for 22.5 percent of the state’s power to come from renewable sources within 10 years — a goal that was the subject of heavy debate at a legislative hearing attended by nearly 100 people Thursday.

Environmentalists said they want a 30 percent target, but business leaders said that would drive their costs up.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, defended the goal proposed in Gov. Chris Christie’s draft energy master plan, calling it fair and an “aggressive standard.”

Only eight states have higher renewable portfolio standards than 22.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy website. The standards are state policies that require electricity providers to obtain a minimum percentage of their power from renewable energy resources, including the sun and wind, by a certain date.

After Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club made a case for the higher benchmark, Beck said: “I’ve been told on many occasions that’s a stretch for us. We know solar and wind are great sources, but they’re not particularly reliable, and that’s a challenge. There’s also a responsibility for us to be realistic to set goals that can be met.”

New Jersey currently obtains less than 10 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy sources.

But Tittel noted that New Jersey has ramped up, with more than 10,000 solar arrays installed. Only California has more.

“We’re No. 2 in solar installations. We shouldn’t go back,” said Tittel, who added that he fears Christie’s policy could jeopardize funding for renewable energy projects for homeowners and small businesses and affect more than 200 solar companies in New Jersey.

Corporate executives who testified said the current relative high costs of solar energy should not be discounted.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the poor economy underscores the need for an energy policy that loosens restrictions. He praised Christie’s plan.

“I think you have to look at everything in context,” said Egenton, who said money spent on higher energy costs by companies would lead to less money spent on operations and investments. “You have to look at the bigger picture.”

The joint legislative hearing took place at the Toms River town hall and was co-chaired by Sen. Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon, both Democrats. State energy regulators also are holding hearings this month and will vote to adopt a final energy policy later this year.

The lawmakers on the panel received an admonishment from Janet Tauro, an environmentalist who is co-chairwoman of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety.

With the topic turned to energy conservation, Tauro made a common-sense suggestion:

“We can turn down the air conditioning and turn off lights,” said Tauro, also of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.


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