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New Measure Would Push State to Set More Ambitious Renewable Energy Targets

By: Tom Johnson |

Clean-energy advocates have long maintained that the state should ramp up its goals to produce 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar — a position not favored by the Christie administration.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer) and introduced last week. could reignite the debate between lawmakers and the administration over how expansive the state’s renewable energy goals should be.

In adopting a new Energy Master Plan in his first term, Gov. Chris Christie stuck to a 22.5 percent renewable energy standard by 2020, a goal shy of the 30 percent proposed by the Corzine administration, much to the dismay of clean-energy advocates.

Is a new target achievable and — if so — at what cost?

A report released this week by PJM Interconnection, the operator of the nation’s largest power grid, which stretches from the Eastern Seaboard to Illinois, projected that if the 30 percent renewable energy targets were met within its territory, $13.7 billion in transmission upgrades would be needed.

On top of that, current power plants would be needed to recover higher capacity costs — the assurance that electricity will be available when renewable sources could not produce the power needed by the grid.

“It requires a considerable amount of transmission infrastructure costs,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with Glenrock Associates in New York CIty. Further, there is a need to compensate some of the traditional generators, who would provide power when they need to be dispatched because intermittent sources, such as solar and wind, cannot provide the electricity they grid needs, he said.

The bill reflects a jockeying among solar and other renewable proponents on how aggressive the state’s goals should be to advance cleaner ways of producing electricity. Privately, some solar and other renewable energy groups have been lobbying lawmakers to increase renewable energy goals to as much 80 percent by 2050, a target that has found little traction among lawmakers.

“We think that it’s time to really define the destination point where we are going forward,’’ said Lyle Rawlings, a vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Association, an industry trade group. He was referring to the 80 percent renewable energy goal, as well as a bill his organization is touting that has yet to be introduced in the Legislature.

The debate occurs at a time when clean-energy advocates and solar proponents are at odds on what steps the state needs to take to promote renewable energy, particularly the solar industry, which has fallen on hard times because of a rapid overbuild in the sector the result of lucrative federal and state incentives.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said if the state does not expand the requirements for more electricity produced by renewable energy, the solar market will likely crash again.

‘The people in New Jersey support this legislation,’’ Tittel said. “Clearly the Legislature is moving forward on these issues.’’

The bill also reflects a petition filed by the Sierra Club before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to establish an energy efficiency portfolio that would require many utilities to adopt programs to curb energy consumption. Those who participate in the programs would see reductions in their bills.

Fred DeSanti, a spokesman for the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition, agreed that reducing energy consumption is the way to go. “The first nickel spent should be spent on energy efficiency,’’ DeSanti said.

But DeSanti also sounded a cautionary note about the state’s efforts to promote renewable energy. “Society has to decide what people can afford for renewable energy.