NJ Wrestles with Clean Energy Priorities
Energy Master Plan Hearings Yield Conflicting Visions
The Energy Master Plan hearing highlighted the Gem e6 on-demand electric shuttle, now being used to address the lack of car ownership and transportation options in the state capital of Trenton.
The Energy Master Plan hearing highlighted the Gem e6 on-demand electric shuttle, now being used to address the lack of car ownership and transportation options in the state capital of Trenton. | New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Speakers told the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to emphasize cutting emissions from heavy- and medium-duty trucks and tackle methane emissions in the state's next Energy Master Plan.

A New Jersey campaign to solicit public opinion on a new Energy Master Plan has sparked intense and diverging opinions, with state officials claiming achievements triggered by the previous plan and environmentalists charging the next plan should be tougher, bolder and more aggressive.

Speakers at the first of four public hearings organized by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities urged the agency to emphasize cutting emissions from heavy- and medium-duty trucks and aggressively tackle methane emissions. Several speakers at the May 20 hearing asked the BPU to do more to reduce vehicle miles traveled in the state and push public transit, while business groups demanded closer attention to the cost of the plan.

The discussions follow the 2019 Energy Master Plan, which environmentalists depicted in the hearings as too timid and ineffective.

“The 2019 plan wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t really implemented,” said David Pringle of Empower NJ, a climate coalition. And he expressed concern that the next version would have the same impact because it won’t be completed until the final months of Gov. Phil Murphy’s tenure, which ends in January 2026.

BPU officials said they expect to complete a draft of the new plan by the third quarter, and the final report by the end of the year. That will form the cornerstone of the state’s “comprehensive climate action plan,” with a release target date of the third quarter of 2025, said Eric Miller, executive director of Murphy’s Office of Climate Action in the Green Economy.

Miller said the goal of the master plan initiative is to “identify the best pathways for New Jersey to achieve its ambitious climate targets.” It will build upon the 2019 plan and adapt to the changes that have taken place since, such as new clean energy goals and money available through the federal Inflation Reduction Act, he said.

“We’ll be conducting a deeper and more robust study of the cost of climate mitigation for our residents,” Miller said. That will include “detailed gas and electric rate modeling, in addition to the upfront capital costs associated with decarbonization” and will enable the state to “more deeply explore how a diverse range of demand reduction strategies may help alleviate peak electric load.”

Clean Energy Advances

Whatever its impact, the 2019 New Jersey plan came as the state embarked on a series of clean energy initiatives considered among the more aggressive in the nation.

The state, which already had a strong portfolio of solar projects when the previous master plan was created, has continued to add solar capacity, launching a highly popular — and oversubscribed — community solar program.

State incentive programs had by the end of 2023 helped put 154,153 electric vehicles on the road, about halfway to the goal of 330,000 by 2025. The state also has heavily backed offshore wind energy, approving five projects and building a $600 million wind port. The state suffered a setback in October when developer Ørsted abandoned two projects, but three OSW projects with a capacity of 5.25 GW are ongoing, and the state launched a fourth solicitation on April 30. (See New Jersey Opens 4th Offshore Wind Solicitation.)

In September 2021, Murphy increased the state’s OSW capacity target from 7.5 GW to 11 GW by 2040. That followed the governor’s moving forward the goal of reaching 100% clean energy electricity generation from 2050 to 2035.

In advance of the public hearings, the BPU issued a request for information seeking stakeholder input at the first meeting on a range of topics, among them how to shape the state’s EV incentives as uptake progresses, and how to support and accelerate the development of the OSW and solar projects without placing too much burden on ratepayers.

Cost is Key

The cost of implementing the final plan emerged as a consistent theme at the more than three-hour meeting, at which about 50 people spoke.

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said it supports the state’s OSW initiatives and the goals of the Energy Master Plan but urged the BPU to hire an “independent, outside organization” to study the costs and ratepayer impact.

“Transparency in costs is essential to ensuring the success of the implementation,” said Laura Gunn, a lobbyist for the chamber.

Doug O’Malley, state director of Environment NJ, said the state needs to be ready to provide financial support for whatever proposals end up in the plan.

“We can solve our climate crisis by investing in clean energy, including energy storage,” he said. “The missing ingredient of past Energy Master Plans and the future ones is that it needs funding, and it needs funding from the Murphy administration that will meet the moment and meet the challenge, to ensure that we’re not underfunding the solutions.”

Any assessment of the cost of the plan should take into account the cost of “inactivity,” the expenses arising from the extreme impacts of climate change if the state does not combat climate change, he said.

Peggy Middaugh, of Unitarian Universalist FaithAction NJ, also said the BPU should go beyond calculating the costs of implementing initiatives to include the broader costs that would result if the state failed to cut emissions, such as health costs, property damage from wildfires and flooding, and “the reduction in value of real estate in flood-prone areas.”

Reducing Miles Traveled

Middaugh added that cutting emissions from transportation should be a key element of the master plan, including efforts to reduce emissions by using EVs or bolstering the state mass transit agency so more people will use it.

But the plan should go much further and seek to cut the distance that people travel to get to work, she said.

“In almost all New Jersey municipalities, a large majority of the residents leave town to go elsewhere to work while a large majority of the jobs in the municipality are filled by non-residents,” Middaugh said. “This requires a deep examination of development and our transportation infrastructure.”

Chris Sturm, policy director of land use for New Jersey Future, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable growth, said vehicle miles traveled statewide have increased annually for most of the past 50 years, and the organization has crafted a plan to reduce the number by 8.5% by 2050. Implementation would include measures such as investing in bike and pedestrian infrastructure and mass transit, and creating municipal developments that put homes closer to grocery stores, schools and bus stops.

John Reichman of Empower NJ said the most effective step toward reducing vehicle miles traveled would be to “stop expanding highways and instead invest that money in public transit” and pedestrian walkways. He urged the state to stop the expansion of the New Jersey Turnpike just outside New York City, which he said would cost $10.7 billion.

“Prioritizing expanding highways is a policy of the 1950s that totally ignores the climate crisis,” he said.

Speakers also offered diverging opinions as to what should be considered clean energy.

Gunn urged the BPU to take a broad view of acceptable energies, including natural gas, nuclear, renewable natural gas and hydrogen, and to “recognize the vital importance of the state’s gas distribution system going forward.”

“The more options our residents and businesses have as it relates to energy production in New Jersey, the more affordable it will be,” she said.

But environmental groups encouraged a much harder line, with some calling for a moratorium on the development of any fossil fuel generating plants and urging the BPU not to accept alternative fuels that are not 100% clean energy.

New JerseyRenewable PowerTransportation Decarbonization

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