NJ Spotlight, Jan. 23, 2014
By Tom Johnson
Group petitions BPU for binding mandates, hopes to stop governor, Legislature from diverting clean energy funds
Saying New Jersey is lagging behind many other states in curbing energy use by its businesses and residents, the Sierra Club yesterday said it would ask the state to establish binding mandates to reduce electric and gas consumption by utility customers.
The petition, to be filed with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, reflects unhappiness with the state’s efforts to promote energy efficiency, a goal critics say has been undermined by repeated diversion of more than $1 billion in ratepayers’ money — some of it destined to reduce energy use — to plug holes in the state budget.
The issue has important implications for New Jersey’s consumers and businesses, which pay some of the highest energy bills in the country. The Christie administration has repeatedly made reducing energy bills a top priority, but clean energy advocates complain its actions do not back up its words, particularly when it comes to investing in energy efficiency.
Not only has the administration and Democratic-controlled Legislature diverted money from clean energy programs, but Gov. Chris Christie also pulled out of a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at the same time siphoning off money that would have gone to energy efficiency project to help balance the state budget.
By most accounts, broad investments in energy efficiency projects are the best way to help lower energy bills for consumers, reduce pollution, and potentially create new well-paying jobs in a green economy.
In recent years, however, New Jersey has fallen behind many other states in promoting energy efficiency, through such initiatives as appliance rebates, home weatherization, and energy management programs for both industry and municipalities.
“New Jersey used to be a national leader on utility-sector energy efficiency programs, but has slipped to the middle of the pack,’’ said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
The petition, which has yet to be filed with the BPU because state offices were closed yesterday in the aftermath of a snowstorm, echoed that point.
“Other states are beating New Jersey to the punch,’’ according to the 16-page petition. “They have set binding targets to boost the energy efficiency investments, thereby securing lower energy bills, job growth, and reduced pollution more profitably than New Jersey can without targets.’’
The mechanism the environmental group urges the BPU to adopt is a so-called Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS), similar to what New Jersey has adopted to promote new investment in solar technology. The petition urges the state agency to immediately commence a proceeding to establish binding, long-term fully funded targets to require the state’s gas and electric utilities to reduce energy use among its customers.
Targets would include reducing electricity use by 1.5 percent each year and another 1 percent of natural gas use annually, according to the petition. “It’s a doable target,’’ argued Tom Schuster, New Jersey representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in a teleconference call with reporters.
In contrast, between 2001 and 2011, energy savings in New Jersey averaged less than 0.5 percent of energy generation, an achievement far bettered by neighboring states, such as New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, according to Nadel.
Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the BPU, said the agency was unable to comment on the petition until it had a chance to review the document.
The petition indicates that New Jersey’s current energy efficiency programs have delivered benefits to its resident, noting 12,800 energy efficiency-related new jobs have been created between 2007-2011, while also significantly reducing pollution from fossil fuels, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, the petition argues even the BPU recognizes that “current funding levels will not serve the full range of competitive savings’’ for New Jersey customers. In recent years, utility energy efficiency programs have dropped from $124 million in reported expenditures in fiscal year 2010 to just $35 million in fiscal year 2014, according to the petition.
“The status quo is untenable,’’ the petition argued. “There is simply too much unrealized cost savings, public health, and environmental benefit that the board is leaving on the table.’’