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Saturday, June 22, 2024


At Public Hearings, State Outlines Strategies in New Energy Master Plan

At Public Hearings, State Outlines Strategies in New Energy Master Plan

By Vince Conti

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities promised accelerated goals for renewable sources including solar and offshore wind during one of four virtual public hearings regarding a new state Energy Master Plan.
Hryshchyshen Serhii/
New Jersey Board of Public Utilities promised accelerated goals for renewable sources including solar and offshore wind during one of four virtual public hearings regarding a new state Energy Master Plan.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has held three of a planned four virtual public hearings to kick off the process of developing a new state Energy Master Plan.

BPU President Christine Guhl-Sadovy opened the first hearing Monday, May 20, by saying that the new plan would not be a refreshing of the existing 2019 plan. It would, she said, be “a revamped plan” that takes into account changed circumstances since 2019 and brings to bear the experience the state has gained in the years since then.

Eric Miller, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy, said the new plan would be a “deeper, more robust economic study” that would include “rate modeling” in order to make clear the costs to consumers of the energy transition away from fossil fuels that the existing plan calls for.

The promised emphasis on the economics of the transition appears to be an attempt to address the key arguments against Gov. Phil Murphy’s climate agenda, that the public wasn’t able to get any sense of the ultimate cost of the transition and that higher rates are likely to be passed to consumers who make the transition away from fossil fuels to electric power in everything from the family car to home heating and appliances.

The first hearing focused on three of seven strategies that are part of the overall structure of the master plan. These involved decarbonization of the transportation sector, accelerated efforts at renewable energy and distributed energy resources, and decarbonizing and modernizing New Jersey’s energy system.

A second hearing was held on Wednesday, May 22, with a focus on two additional strategies, one of which is reducing emissions from the building sector through decarbonization and electrification of new and existing buildings and homes. This strategy includes a net zero carbon homes incentive program and the development of electric vehicle-ready building codes.

The other strategy covered in the second hearing was setting new utility energy efficiency standards, along with building and energy codes and appliance standards.

This hearing made clear that existing building codes will be impacted by the development and adoption of the new energy plan.

The third hearing, held on Wednesday, May 29, moved the focus to state support for community energy planning and actions needed in underserved communities, along with defining actions for expanding the clean energy innovation economy that the Murphy administration sees as one of the most significant payoffs to having New Jersey move quickly into a leadership role in the country. Jobs and a revitalized economy have long been a selling point for the Murphy administration’s push for an energy transition.

One more hearing is scheduled, for June 3, to recap the strategy actions to date.

Simultaneous with the BPU’s public launch of a new energy master plan initiative, the Department of Environmental Protection has filed its proposed Resilient Environments and Landscapes rule with the state Office of Administrative Law.

The agency is holding a series of four webinars to provide “deep dives” into its “modernization of land use protection rules.” Three of the BPU’s hearings on the new energy plan and three of the DEP’s webinars on its new rules were held on the same day, forcing the interested public to either devote most of a day to virtual sessions or pick and choose among them.

In part, the rush to get these parallel processes some public exposure stems from the administration’s need to get Murphy’s signature climate action agenda more firmly in place before term limits force him from office.

The do-over for the 2019 master plan comes amid heavy criticism that the initial plan provided little information on eventual costs and contained a number of goals that have either changed or remain unachieved.

The original plan set a goal of a 100% clean energy economy by 2050, a goal Murphy accelerated by executive order to 2035. Milestones in the ambitious energy transition plan were impacted by the withdrawal of Orsted, the Danish wind farm builder, from its two offshore wind projects.

Electrification of the transportation and building sectors are two of the most controversial aspects of the energy master plan. They represent what the administration calls the two largest sources of pollutant emissions in the state, but tackling them requires strong public support for the overall agenda, something the administration is now trying to build.

Of special interest in Cape May County, the second strategy presented Monday by BPU staff focused on renewable energy sources, promising accelerated goals for renewable sources including solar and offshore wind. Presenters touted 5,252 megawatts of offshore wind under active development and promising new solar programs aimed at communitywide efforts and residential and small commercial users.

Along with the emphasis on renewables comes a drive at modification of grid rules to better enable the use of distributed energy resources. The goals discussed still call for transmission capacity for 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind even though it was not clear how that goal can be met with Orsted’s withdrawal.

A new element of the planning since 2019 is how to make the best use of the influx of federal money coming from the Biden administration.

More than 40 people registered to speak during the public comment portion of the first hearing, where many urged accelerated action. Alison McLeod of the League of Conservation Voters stressed themes many of the public speakers touched on. Strong action is needed, McLeod said, to provide protection from climate change, improve public health and support the development of good jobs in the green economy.

Power NJ’s David Pringle said the 2019 plan was not strong enough, with others adding that the 2019 plan was not an “executable” plan, lacking enough specific milestones and failing to delegate responsibility adequately.

There were detractors of the state’s energy initiative who expressed concern about overly ambitious goals set to be achieved in a little more than a decade. Supporters countered with the “cost of inaction,” citing studies that project significant losses to climate change if adaptation is not sufficient.

Anjuli Ramos of the New Jersey Sierra Club argued for an aggressive plan that will drive adaptation on the one hand and seek mitigation through pollutant reduction efforts on the other.

Republican legislators have proposed a bill that would require the BPU to consider energy security, diversity and affordability when preparing the Energy Master Plan and perform economic and ratepayer impact analysis of energy generation projects and other aspects of the plan. The bill, sponsored by Christine Barranco (R-Morris) and Alex Sauickie (R-Burlington), was introduced in January but has not moved out of committee.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association cautions that the new master plan cannot be looked at from only one side of the ledger. The big objections to the former plan, feasibility of hitting ambitious goals and the unknown costs, remain as obstacles to support for the new plan.

Contact the reporter, Vince Conti, at


Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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