GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Dozens of speakers asked the Board of Public Utilities to update the state’s 2011 Energy Master Plan with increased goals for renewable energy at a public hearing Monday afternoon at Stockton University.
“I’m embarrassed our master plan seems to focus on fossil fuels,” said Ron Hutchison of Northfield, a member of 350.org, which works to combat global warming.
Like many other speakers, he said the plan should take into account the social costs of using carbon-based fuels, including the price of dealing with climate change, rising sea levels, and health problems from particulate air pollution.
Many asked the BPU to return to standards in the 2008 Energy Master Plan, calling for 30 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable energy such as wind and solar by 2021. That percentage was decreased to 22.5 percent in the 2011 plan.
About 70 people came out to give their input, or listen to others. Speakers took up almost the full four hours, from 1 to 5 p.m.
BPU President Richard Mroz ran the meeting. He opened by saying the state has been doing well meeting the 2011 plan’s five major goals of driving down energy costs, creating a diverse portfolio of clean new energy generation in-state, rewarding efficiency and conservation, promoting emerging technologies and using renewables.
“Overall we have fallen from a very high energy-cost state,” he said. In 2010 New Jersey ranked 17th highest in the U.S. for energy costs, and is now the 50th, or least costly, state in the country, Mroz said.
Electricity in particular, however, remains expensive in New Jersey, with the state having the nation’s 10th highest electricity costs in the country. It still represents improvement, as New Jersey was fourth highest for electric costs in 2010, Mroz said.
He also said the state gets 15 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources now, and is the 46th in emissions from electric generation, even though it’s the 22nd largest electric generating state in the nation.
New Jersey League of Women Voters President Nancy Hedinger said she was disappointed the public hearings were being held in August, a time when many people are vacationing and cannot participate.
“There was little advance notice,” she said. “This is not in the interest of good government.”
Hedinger said Hurricane Sandy and other storms have shown there is a need for better service to ratepayers.
“Twelve days without power is not acceptable,” she said. “With the sea level rise, there is a guarantee of more severe storms.”
She said the costs of various types of energy should take a “cradle to grave” perspective, with all the costs of damage to the environment from fracking for gas included in overall costs of natural gas energy.
“Look at the costs over time,” she said. “Stop undervaluing renewables and overvaluing fossil fuels.”
Stefanie Brand, director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, asked that her office be able to comment on a draft of the new plan, once it is written.
She said the reason the state fell from fourth highest in electric costs to 10th highest wasn’t because the cost of electricity here declined. It has stabilized, she said, and is going up in other states.
“They are passing us on the list,” she said. “I would urge everyone not to rest on their laurels, but stay conscious of what we are spending.”
Brand singled out solar as a particular success story since 2011, with the number of installations up and the costs going down.
Richard Jackson, executive director of the New Jersey Energy Coalition, made up of 55 members including all the state’s major electric and gas utilities, said he hoped the new master plan puts emphasis on investment in electric and natural gas infrastructure projects that improve efficiency and safety, and lower costs.
Before the hearing, environmental groups and renewable energy promoters, including the New Jersey Sierra Club, Fishermen’s Energy, 350.org, Environment New Jersey, Clean Water Action, and Citizens United for Renewable Energy held a news conference to call for approval of renewable energy projects such as the Fishermen’s Energy wind farm.
They also want to stop the expansion of fossil fuel projects such as the South Jersey Gas natural gas pipeline slated to go through 10 miles of Pinelands Forest Area.
The Pinelands Commission in effect approved the pipeline last Friday, when Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg deemed it in compliance with the commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan as a private development project. It will not need a vote by Pinelands commissioners.
Cape May’s Fishermen’s Energy has lost repeated attempts to build a 25-megawatt wind farm three miles off Atlantic City’s coast. The BPU denied the application, citing cost concerns that would be borne by electricity users, and Fishermen’s Energy is appealing the board’s decision to the state Supreme Court.
HOW TO COMMENT
Monday’s was the final of three public hearings on the New Jersey Energy Master Plan held over the past two weeks. But written public comments can be submitted unitl the close of business Aug. 24 to EMPupdate@bpu.state.nj.us, after which the state Energy Master Plan commitee will finalize the update. For more information, see nj.gov/emp.