In advance of Energy Master Plan hearing, state touts solar energy milestone

TRENTON – With the first of three public hearings on the state’s Energy Master Plan scheduled for Tuesday, the state today sought to tout its record of advancing the cause of renewable energy.

Well aware of environmentalists’ arguments that Gov. Chris Christie’s revised Plan undercuts renewable energy goals, representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Public Utilities today pointed to a record-setting June, during which the state installed 520 solar energy projects totaling more than 40 megawatts.

In total, the state reported it has 10,086 solar energy array projects totaling more than 380 megawatts.

“We are experiencing some explosive growth,’’ said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “All of these projects provide an opportunity for businesses to grow their bottom line.’’

But when the governor unveiled his revised Plan in early June, environmentalists criticized it, among other things, for reducing the 2020 renewable energy goal from 30 percent to 22.5 percent.

Martin today reiterated what the governor said last month: that 22.5 percent is a realistic goal.

“The Corzine administration made up a number,’’ he said. “They had no way of getting there.’’

But at the same time that the Christie administration is trying to position itself as a leader in achieving realistic renewable energy goals, it also warned today that it believes that reduced public assistance and increased private competition is the way of the future.

The solar rebates in the state have ended, but Martin said the solar energy program is not on life support and remains vibrant.

“We’re looking to let the market drive some of this, too,’’ Martin said, “So that solar can compete … to drive down costs.’’

He said that possibly the use of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates will evolve into some kind of a revolving loan fund.

In addition, Martin and BPU spokesman J. Gregory Reinert touted the developing offshore wind program as another component of the state’s push for renewables.

They said the state created tax credits and set a floor of 1,100 megawatts for that industry, and recently garnered 11 proposals that would generate more than 12,000 megawatts total if all of them were in play.

The demand is there to build off the coast of New Jersey, they said.

The first public hearing for the Plan will be Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the N.J. Institute of Technology in Newark.

In advance of Energy Master Plan hearing, state touts solar energy milestone