Eighty percent of all electricity sold in New Jersey would have to come from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power if a bill that cleared a Senate committee Monday becomes law.
The measure mandates that starting with 11 percent by 2017, the percentage of renewable energy increases 10 percent every five years until it reaches 80 percent, a schedule the bill’s sponsor Sen. Bob Smith called “pretty aggressive” but not when compared to what other states are doing.
“New Jersey needs to be a leader in renewable energy because we are so impacted by global climate,” Smith, D-Middlesex, said shortly after the Senate Environment and Energy Committee he chairs voted unanimously to refer the bill for a vote by the full Senate.
“The truth is that renewables are becoming cheaper and cheaper,” Smith added. “It’s good public policy. It’s good for the rate payers. It’s good for our health and it helps reduce global climate change.”
Critics of the measure, however, predicted the bill would drive up already high bills by forcing utilities to buy more costly wind and solar power rather than rely on coal or natural gas and a free-market approach.
Mike Proto, communications director for the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity - a group funded by the energy billionaires Charles and David Koch - cited one study that predicted the bill’s cost to New Jersey rate payers would increase by $1.05 billion by 2021.
“I shudder to think what that will do to our state,” Proto said. “No state has an electricity mandate even close to this level and this bill would lead New Jersey into uncharted and dangerous territory.”
Several environment groups spoke in favor of the plan, saying it will create new jobs while providing cleaner power.
Tom Gilbert, campaign director of Rethink Energy New Jersey, cited a recent poll that Fairleigh Dickinson’s PublicMind Poll did for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
He said the poll said nearly four out of five voters supported the 80 percent goal by 2050, including 89 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans.
“Clean energy is not a partisan issue,” Gilbert said. He pointed to New York setting a goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
“Other states will pass New Jersey by, taking jobs with them if we don’t lead the way,” Gilbert added.
A New Jersey Utilities Association official, urged lawmakers to take a cautious approach to what he described as “ambitious” level of required renewable energy.
Andrew Hendry, president and CEO of the association, said his group supports having renewable energy in the mix of its overall supply.
But Hendry added that the standards mandated in the legislation, “could result in billions of dollars, over time, in additional expenses that will ultimately be passed on to ratepayers.
A nearly identical bill passed in the Senate by a 25-14 vote on Dec. 21, but died after it failed to reach a vote in the Assembly during the last legislative session.