Renewables goal bill clears Energy committee with amendments

TRENTON – The Senate Energy Committee today released S3032, a bill  that is designed to increase the state’s renewable energy requirements.

The measure was cleared after the committee deleted a controversial section that would have maintained the societal benefits charge at 2011 levels, which industry witnesses said would threaten jobs and the economy in a state with such high energy costs.

The bill, in opposition to Gov. Christie’s revised Energy Master Plan that will cut the state’s renewables goal from 30 percent to 22.5 percent, is an attempt to steer the state back onto a course of supporting and encouraging solar and other renewables that is higher than what the administration has argued is realistic.

Opponents, such as the N.J. Business and Industry Association and the N.J. Chamber of Commerce, are concerned about several aspects, in particular the societal benefits charge being maintained at the 2011 levels.

They argued that such a charge is part of numerous government-mandated fees and taxes that total about 27 percent of a utility bill.  Many of those other fees should be reviewed and if possible, reduced, they argued.

Environmentalists, such as the N.J. Sierra Club, argued that the bill is a key jobs bill as well as an environmental proposal.

They argued that there is a demand for green jobs, and that solar has provided more than 5,000 alone.  “This is a bigger deal for New Jersey than the president’s jobs bill,’’ Sierra Club head Jeff Tittel said. Environmental witnesses testified that the state easily can meet the “reduced’’ goals for wind and solar and should aim higher.

Chairman Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, acknowledged that the solar renewable energy certificates market has crashed due to oversupply and has jeopardized the progress the state has made, and he said that issue will be addressed.

But the business opponents reiterated that legislatively mandated supports will hurt business and cost jobs.

Before the vote, the committee made changes to the bill. Smith said that after hearing the witnesses, he and co-sponsor Sen. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Monroe agreed the societal benefits charge concerns needed to be fixed.

The vote was 3-1 along party lines with Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck voting no and Sen. Kip Bateman abstaining.