NJ needs an even greater sense of urgency on clean energy

Tom Gilbert, campaign director, ReThink Energy NJ
Posted May 1, 2023

ReThink Energy NJ Campaign Director Tom Gilbert discusses the need for the New Jersey Clean Energy Act of 2023 (S-2978) in this opinion piece that was first published on NJ Spotlight on April 5, 2023.

We need the New Jersey Clean Energy Act. It would ensure the state can rely on clean, carbon-free power

New Jersey has sensible plans to switch from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy that will improve the health of our families and save consumers money. But the urgency of the climate crisis requires that they need to be implemented faster and go farther.  

Clean-energy costs are going down and there has never been a better time to go faster and farther. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022, takes a big bite out of the cost of solar, wind and nuclear energy, electric heat pumps and other clean technologies. And, thanks to Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent actions, New Jersey households and businesses will benefit from generous incentives and cost savings.  

Executive orders Murphy signed require the state to have 100% clean electricity by 2035, to ramp up programs to electrify over 400,000 homes and 20,000 commercial buildings by 2030 and to direct the Board of Public Utilities to begin planning the future of natural gas utilities.  

With these strong actions, Gov. Murphy continued his leadership to address the climate crisis, to create a prosperous clean-energy economy with good jobs and to make our communities healthier — especially those far too long overburdened by pollution. The governor aptly described in his recent address on clean energy the need to help those who live in the “shadows of the overpasses and alongside the highways which were shoehorned into their communities, and where asthma rates from those years of breathing dirty air are many times higher than the rest of the state.”  

Executive orders are not enough 

These executive orders are significant steps forward. But they can all too easily be undone by a future governor. That’s why the next step on New Jersey’s journey to 100% clean electricity by 2035 needs to be passage of a bill introduced by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) that would embed that policy in state law.  

The New Jersey Clean Energy Act of 2023 (S-2978) would establish a standard for 100% clean electricity to make sure the state relies on clean, carbon-free power to meet its electricity needs. The new standard would require energy suppliers to purchase clean-energy certificates from zero-carbon power sources such as wind, solar and nuclear. It is a cost-effective, reliable way to meet the state’s clean-energy goals.  

The legislation, however, should also address concerns raised by environmental justice leaders about long-standing pollution from incinerators located in overburdened communities.  

The fossil fuel industry and its fake consumer-protection-branded front groups will offer a laundry list of objections just as they have done at every step of New Jersey’s move away from dirty fossil fuels. 

They’ve been wrong all along. But that doesn’t stop their scare campaigns. Anticipating the industry’s next volley, Murphy declared, “No one is coming for anyone’s gas stove. No one is walking into anyone’s kitchen. No one is going to be forced to do anything, in any way.” 

Perfect timing

The timing of more ambitious clean-energy goals couldn’t be better. With billions of federal dollars being invested in clean electricity, electric heat pumps for heating and cooling buildings and electric vehicles, achieving the state’s carbon-free energy goals just got cheaper to achieve on a faster timeline. Thanks to these new federal investments, Murphy’s and Smith’s efforts to speed up New Jersey’s clean-energy goals while ensuring costs to consumers are comparable to or lower than what they have paid in recent years can be described as old-fashioned common sense. 

Achieving 100% clean electricity by 2035 will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that harm our health. The governor has established a goal to electrify 400,000 residential units and 20,000 commercial units by 2030, taking advantage of federal rebates and loans estimated at $700 million to support electrifying buildings in New Jersey. More families — especially low- and moderate-income households and landlords — will be able to choose clean, modern electric appliances to heat and cool buildings while reducing their energy bills.  

It’s expected that consumers will increasingly choose electric heat pumps — as they do in other states, some with colder climates than ours — because they provide comfortable heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  

Switching from gas heating systems to efficient heat pumps will save money for every household. An analysis by Acadia Center found that, with today’s utility costs, New Jersey households switching from gas heating to efficient heat pumps can save up to $600 a year. Changing from propane and fuel oil can save households close to $2,000 yearly.  

Replacing gas appliances with electric ones also helps reduce health problems from indoor air pollution that exacerbates respiratory conditions like asthma and allergies. Children living in homes with gas stoves are 24-42% more likely to suffer from asthma symptoms than those with electric stoves. 

Speeding up New Jersey’s clean-energy transition is the right move at the right time. If we don’t move as fast as we can, our children and grandchildren will have every right to ask, “What took you so long?”

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