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New Jersey Hears Critics of Energy Master Plan

At a public hearing Tuesday on New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, most of those who spoke criticized state policies, saying the state depends too much on fossil fuels to meet energy demands, falls short in promoting renewable energy, and does too little to curb energy use.

The four-year-old plan is the subject of intense debate; how well is the state adapting to it, and how successful are efforts to make the power grid more resilient in the wake of extreme storms.

The state’s energy policies are working fine, according to the Christie administration which says they have lowered consumer bills, produced cleaner power and reduced GHGs.  New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Richard Mroz said the state is making good progress in achieving most of the goals in the current plan. New Jersey now has the lowest prices in the nation for residential retail natural gas, Mroz said. It also has dropped from the state with the fourth-highest retail electricity prices to the tenth in just five years, he said.

However, Stefanie Brand, director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, questioned how that conclusion was reached. While acknowledging New Jersey’s ranking has dropped, its electricity prices have not gone down, Brand said.  “Instead, other states have surpassed us with higher prices,’’ she said. “It would be foolish and not entirely accurate to view our state as one that is no longer subject to high energy costs.’’
The hearing was the first of three to be held by the BPU to get input on how the plan should be updated and what New Jersey’s priorities should be.

But many argued that the current plan is flawed, and also suffers from a lack of commitment from the administration that’s needed if it is to achieve some of its stated goals, particularly dealing with energy efficiency and development of offshore wind farms.  Others criticized the state’s efforts to curb energy consumption through energy-efficiency programs, which they said have been hurt by the diversion of $1 billion in clean-energy funds to other uses.

A recurring criticism voiced at the hearing revolved around the state’s promotion of natural gas — both through support for new power plants using the fuel and a plethora of new gas pipelines that cut through open space and preserved farmland.