Trenton — Labeling his state’s renewable energy goal a “pie in the sky sop,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for new natural gas and nuclear power production to provide for a dramatic “expansion of in-state generation capacity,” in a press conference on Tuesday. Coming on top of his retreat on the need to address climate change and pulling New Jersey out of a regional carbon exchange, Christie is negating a progressive energy agenda in the state built over the past decade, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In announcing his amendments to the state Energy Master Plan, Christie adopted an agenda that prioritizes production over conservation, fossil fuels over solar energy and elimination of a surcharge to help low-income households become more energy efficient and install green power. Specifically, he called for –
- Reversing the previous plan’s emphases on reducing demand, promoting energy efficiency and renewable capacity while aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using rate-based incentives. Christie would instead prioritize building new natural gas and nuclear capacity, increasing grid reliability and lowering costs by eliminating incentives to conserve;
- Shifting current solar subsidies away from residential solar retrofit and decentralized local power production and toward large-scale industrial sources; and
- Eliminating an electric utility rate surcharge which pays for low income residential energy efficiency, demand management and renewable energy programs. Enacted in 1999, the Societal Benefits Charge generates approximately $700 million a year.
“This is an across-the-board retreat on green energy and conservation,” said New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that Christie’s plan is built on planks heavily favored by industry and utilities. “Under this plan, big corporate energy users win and ordinary New Jersey households lose.”
Yesterday’s actions continue a recent distinct rightward drift by Christie on these issues. Two weeks ago, he pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) which sold carbon credits for investment in converting to clean energy. He has also flirted with becoming a climate skeptic and has backed off on the need to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. At the same time he has siphoned funds for green energy investment and gutted the state’s highly touted Global Warming Response Act.
Ironically, the current renewable power goal of 22.5% by 2020, which Christie now calls “unrealistic” was on schedule and, by some estimates, could be reached prior to that date, perhaps as soon as 2012, due to demand management.
“Christie is snatching defeat out of the jaws of a green power victory,” Wolfe added, noting that a major decade-long public investment in renewable power is at risk. “Governor Christie wants to turn out the lights on a clean power future just as it starts to dawn.”