Governor Chris Christie spoke on April 21, 2010 at the State Theater in New Brunswick New Jersey. He preceded a panel discussion led by the newly appointed Board of Public Utilities BPU President Lee Solomon. The panel was made up of energy experts in New Jersey.
The Governor’s speech was not surprisingly focused on the budget crisis in the Garden State. His approach Statewide is to cut funding to all facets of government and the Office of Clean Energy will not escape the knife. At the same time, his commitment to making New Jersey a good place to bring up families and keep it economically strong is aligned strongly with renewable energy. He recognizes the benefits of renewable energy in New Jersey, especially the economic growth it has produced. We can expect Governor Christie to take a common sense review of the Energy Master Plan in New Jersey during the next 90 days and after that time there will most likely be an increased focus in the following areas according to his speech:
1. Solar farms built on old landfills. 2. Solar farms sensibly cited on preserved farmland for which “the public has been paying for.” 3. Offshore wind (much was stressed on NJ as a resource for producing energy). 4. Manufacturing of renewable energy components in our industrial centers (this will be done through the EDA). 5. Energy efficiency.
Lee Solomon led the discussion with the following panelists: Bob Martin, Commissioner Department of Environmental Protection, Stefanie A. Brand, Director Department of Public Advocate Division of Rate Council, Caren S. Franzini, CEO Economic Development Authority, Murray Bevan, Bevan, Mosca, Giuditta & Zarillo New Jersey Council, Retail Energy Supply Association (RESA), Dennis Canavan, Senior Director of Global Energy, Johnson & Johnson, Greg Coleman, VP TRC Solutions, Ed Graham, President and CEO South Jersey Gas, Ralph LaRossa, President and COO PSE&G, Drew Murphy, President NE Regional Operations, NRG Energy, Dave Pringle, Campaign Director NJ Environmental Federation, James Torpey Director Market Development SunPower Corporation.
The overwhelming outcome was ENERGY EFFICIENCY (EE).All panelists agreed that the most cost effective and timely way for NJ to achieve its environmental and economic goals is through energy efficiency. The overwhelming barrier to implementing energy efficiency is education. Panelists, who have had decades of experience in EE, agreed that it takes time for the decision makers in a business to “get it”.
We can expect some changes in the solar front, some of which have already started. The BPU has up until this point “democratized” solar through rebates to residential and small business. This has resulted in a healthy mix of solar across the State instead of large utility owned solar farms which is the norm when utility companies have their way at the planning stages. Recent cuts by Christie resulted in a 20% cut in small business and 23% for residential. We can only hope that the new BPU leadership will understand the benefits that small business and residential investors in solar have experienced and not just look at the rebates themselves.
This presentation and panel discussion give us a feel for where the Christie Administration will lead NJ on energy. New Jersey has become a leader in the US on its renewables and it will need to show consistency in times like this where the outgoing Governor was a Democrat and the New Governor is a Republican. Coupling this with the budget crisis poses even more of a challenge. For NJ to achieve its goals it needs private investment. On the solar side alone close to $20 billion in private investment will be needed to achieve current RPS goals. Inconsistency on the part of the new BPU and Governor will jeopardize all of this. Overall, so far it appears that the system will be tweaked but the legislative support will remain to achieve these goals.