NJ: Democrats press for a renewable energy policy

Democrats in control of the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee chipped away at Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed energy policy Monday, advancing a bill they said would push more reliance on solar and other renewable energy sources.

The dialogue came under immediate fire from the Christie administration, with the governor’s Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, Bob Martin, signaling that a veto may be forthcoming from the Republican governor if full legislative approval is gained.

Martin said Christie already “has aggressively promoted the development of renewable energy sources and provided the leadership necessary to move New Jersey forward into a greener, more economically prosperous energy future.”
Environmentalists at the hearing said Christie favors power generated by natural gas — with supplies of that fossil fuel increasing since development of the Marcellus Shale, natural gas deposit in Pennsylvania — but the statement from Martin referred to “misinformation” about the governor’s policy.
30% vs. 22.5%
Along party lines in a 3-2 committee vote, the bill advanced by Democrats would establish a 30 percent renewable energy portfolio standard. The state currently gets less than 10 percent of its power from solar, wind, and other renewables.
Christie’s draft energy master plan sets the renewable standard at 22.5 percent, a goal cheered by business representatives at the hearing. They noted that renewable energy generally has higher costs.
Mike Egenton of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said the Christie target would better control energy costs and likely lead industry to greater production and more jobs.
“The goals set out in the energy master plan are reasonable. It’s a balanced approached,” Egenton said.
Senators Jennifer Beck and Kip Bateman, both Republicans, agreed, though Monmouth County’s Beck said she’d go along with upping the renewable goal if convincing arguments could be made for it.
“I’m told that 22.5 percent is already a stretch and that 30 percent is not realistic,” Beck said. “Other folks say 30 percent is doable.”
The Republicans won three amendments to the bill, however, including the erasure of fixing the societal benefits charge (SBC) at 2011 levels. The charge appears as an add-on on customer bills and pays for six programs, include a nuclear decommissioning trust fund.
Sara Bluhm of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said some of the SBC programs may become cheaper to operate or be eliminated entirely. Bluhm said some of the largest companies in the state pay more than $1 million for the SBC.
Democrats Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein, both of Middlesex County, and Jim Whalen of Atlantic County voted in favor of the bill, pleasing the New Jersey Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel.
Increasing the renewable target will ensure that the green energy “market knows New Jersey is the place to do business,” Tittel said. “There are 25,000 green jobs in New Jersey, with 5,000 from solar alone. This is a jobs bill. This is a stimulus bill for the state of New Jersey. This is bigger for New Jersey than the president’s jobs bill.”
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