Assembly Must Act Swiftly to Reposition N.J. Among Renewable Energy Front-Runners

Posted January 4, 2016

Star Ledger
December 31, 2015

By Tom Gilbert

On December 17, the New Jersey Senate passed, with bipartisan support, an important bill to move New Jersey back into a leadership role in transitioning our state to a clean energy future. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) and Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset), would require an increase every five years in the percentage of the state’s energy coming from renewables, such as solar and wind. By 2050, the bill mandates that 80 percent of New Jersey’s energy will derive from renewable sources.

This is a critical step forward in the advancement of clean energy in the Garden State, but if our state Assembly does not post the bill by the end of the current legislation session on January 11, it will all be for naught.

New Jersey’s Assembly must act with urgency, just like the nearly 200 world leaders who recently met in Paris to finalize a unanimous, international climate pact, marking a momentous shift away from reliance on outdated fossil fuels, like natural gas, and towards a clean energy future.

The people of New Jersey clearly support the goals of this legislation. In a recent survey of just over 700 registered voters by the Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind for New Jersey Conservation Foundation, 78 percent support the goal of having 80 percent renewable energy by 2050, including 89 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans. A whopping 93 percent believe investing in clean/renewable energy is important to the health of the state.

New Jersey’s leaders must act now, or other states will pass us by and reap the economic and environmental benefits. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York recently declared a goal of having 50 percent of the state’s energy generated by renewable sources by 2030, and directed his agencies to meet that mandate.

In stark contrast, New Jersey is headed down quite a different path, one that increases, rather than reduces, the state’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels. The state’s recently adopted Energy Master Plan places far too much emphasis on natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes significantly to climate change. New Jersey’s carbon emissions increased by 14 percent in 2014, driven by a 17 percent increase in emissions from gas-fired power plants. Multiple proposals for new pipelines throughout the state would further our dependence on fossil fuels for decades, even though the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that demand for natural gas in the mid-Atlantic region will remain flat through 2040.

And instead of building on our progress as a leader in adopting solar energy, New Jersey is now falling behind other states. Each year the Solar Energy Industries Association ranks the top 10 solar states. In 2010 New Jersey ranked No. 2, just behind California; just four years later, in 2014, New Jersey dropped to No. 6, while California remained the reigning leader. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, investments in renewable energy create three times as many jobs as the same investment in fossil fuels, so investing in renewables is a win-win for our environment and economy.

It is time for our state leaders to embrace and adopt policies, like S-2444, and return New Jersey to its leadership position on clean renewable energy. Let’s place our focus and energy on the future of our state, and the generations to come.

Tom Gilbert is campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ and for climate, energy and natural resources at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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