Murphy’s slim win won’t stop big energy plans

TOM JOHNSON, ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT WRITER | NOVEMBER 8, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

July 8, 2021: In Seaside Heights, Gov. Phil Murphy signs a package of bills related to clean energy.

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Gov. Phil Murphy hardly cruised to a second term in Tuesday’s election, but his razor-thin victory is unlikely to impede his overarching goal to transition New Jersey to a clean-energy economy.

For one, most of Murphy’s clean-energy initiatives are embraced in the state’s Energy Master Plan — policies Murphy aggressively pushed in his first term with varying degrees of success. Most notably, the administration established a robust offshore wind sector while attracting green manufacturing jobs to the state.

Furthermore, his efforts to electrify the transportation system and to boost energy efficiency are all parts of an aggressive green agenda approved by the Legislature, which remains under control of Democrats.

Weakened by losses of several seats, including the stunning upset of Senate President Steve Sweeney, Democrats may be skittish about adopting new climate initiatives, but repealing those laws is a dubious proposition, according to clean-energy advocates.

“I don’t think the election results take anything away from public support for climate change action,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. In an October poll, more than 70% supported the goal of reaching 100% clean energy by 2035, instead of the state’s current target by 2050, he said.

“Over the past four years, we have learned the hard way that climate change is real,’’ Gilbert said. “We have to go faster in reducing emissions. I would expect the administration to stay the course.”

No significant impact

Raymond Cantor, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, agreed, saying his organization does not see the election having any significant impact on the clean-energy agenda.

“I don’t see the governor backing off any of the policies he’s been backing,’’ Cantor said. The organization has been critical of the administration’s policies, worried it could result in strategies that are not feasible, affordable or reliable.

In fact, several clean-energy advocates and others speculated the administration will put a new emphasis on modernizing the aging electric grid to ensure it will be able to seamlessly integrate intermittent renewable resources, such as offshore wind and solar.

“Even without renewables, it has to happen,’’ Cantor said, referring to upgrades to the grid, including renewables. By mid-century, the administration’s goal is to have 34% of New Jersey’s electricity delivered to homes and businesses by solar energy and 27% by offshore wind.

The state Board of Public Utilities is already looking at modernizing the grid by holding a competitive process among bidders looking to come up with cost-effective transmission solutions for integrating offshore wind power into the region’s electric grid. The solicitation has attracted more than 81 bidders, according to BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso.

Meanwhile, other utilities are preparing to make upgrades to the existing grid on shore. In an earnings call last week, Public Service Electric & Gas announced its plans to ask BPU to undertake a four-year program to spend $848 million to upgrade its part of the grid, largely focusing on its distribution system.

The cost of clean energy

That, like other parts of the renewable sector, could create new jobs, a policy that may offset the cost of moving to green energy. Murphy has declined to say what the cost of transitioning to clean energy will cost ratepayers, even denying it will cost them anything at the last gubernatorial debate.

Others expect the state to aggressively move forward with offshore wind, a sector administration officials believe could be the hub of a new industry emerging along the Eastern Seaboard.

“The second term will provide Murphy a chance to cement his legacy on climate action,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-08 03:21:18 -0800