No one seems happy with New Jersey’s draft Energy Master Plan, which attempts to describe a path to Gov. Phil Murphy’s ultra-ambitious goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.
At this month’s hearings on the draft, environmental groups assailed it for allowing natural gas pipeline and plant projects to continue until adequate replacements for that dominant energy source are developed. Business groups criticized it for neglecting the cost and economic impact of the government-mandated changes to the energy market.
Here’s a contrary view of the draft plan: At this stage, with so much unknown about emerging energy technology and what will be feasible when, the plan needs to be flexible. It is attempting to reconcile the so-far conflicting goals of drastically reducing carbon dioxide emissions and of ensuring New Jersey residents and businesses still always get the heat and electricity they need at a price that’s affordable.
Many environmental groups want the plan to halt further work by natural gas utilities and compel the energy sector to invest in only renewable energy, which means wind and solar. Since they’re intermittent generators of power, another source must guarantee continuous electricity. So far the only clean energy source of sufficient magnitude is nuclear power, which many environmental groups also oppose. Battery storage technology may someday make wind and solar alone more feasible, but that’s uncertain and at an unknown increased cost.
Even as these groups seek to throttle natural gas, two utilities in New York and several in Massachusetts have quit accepting new natural gas customers because opposition to pipelines leaves them unable to ensure service to more consumers. Families and businesses that expected to use cheaper and more reliable natural gas are frustrated and angry.
Most of New Jersey’s major business organizations — 17 in all — together urged the state Board of Public Utilities to get an independent economic analysis of the plan before adopting it. They said they “are extremely concerned that the draft Energy Master Plan does not address the plan’s costs or economic impacts beyond minor references to least-cost solutions.”
The business groups said technological breakthroughs will be needed in batteries, zero-emission heavy vehicles, power transmission systems and other areas before the Murphy administration’s policies can be implemented.
Energy master plans are vision statements about the future of energy in New Jersey, and the further into the future they look, the less effective and accurate they are. Each new governor develops a new energy master plan, hopefully adding enough genuine improvements to at least offset the disruption to the energy markets from conflicting political meddling.
New Jersey is already setting an example that helps environmentalists feel good, leading other states in solar panel installations (despite a relatively unfavorable location for sunshine) and now also in offshore wind energy development. Since the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are a tiny fraction of the nation’s, which only account for 15% of the world’s — and global warming is inherently a global problem requiring global solutions — there is no need for New Jersey to make hasty changes that could turn out to be costly errors as science and technology develop.
The BPU must build patience and flexibility into its vision for future energy. And whatever changes it supports must allow residents and businesses to continue to get energy that’s reliable and affordable — lest it provoke a social, economic and political firestorm.