Dems look at legislative side of Energy Master Plan

TOMS RIVER – It’s not because they have a hand in creating the state’s Energy Master Plan that the joint environmental committees are meeting today; they don’t.

But the initiatives in the plan – hashed out between the Board of Public Utilities and the Governor’s Office, defining the state’s energy stance for the next four years – have their underpinnings in bills on the floor, the work of lawmakers who met in Ocean County today.

Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee Chairman John McKeon, (D-27), of West Orange, said the legislative side was the focus and asked for the 50-some speakers in the room to key in on several main points of the draft of the state’s Energy Master Plan. Among his recommendations was discussing the need for a consistent state stance on energy, providing continuity and predictability that economic stakeholders and businesses crave.

“They wanted consistency,” McKeon recalled from his time as mayor in Essex County. “Toward the end of the (former Gov. Jon) Corzine administration, we came up with what I thought was a (good plan),” one that he said Gov. Chris Christie has decided to overhaul.

Even though the Corzine plan had several years left in shelf life, Christie is tossing out the plan, proposing one of his own through his appointments at the BPU. McKeon called Christie’s plan “a diametrically different route” than the previous administration’s plan.

McKeon also called into discussion the proposed rollback of sustainable energy goals from 30 percent of the state’s energy portfolio to 22.5 percent.

Also, McKeon mentioned a societal benefits charge in jeopardy that he said has produced 26,000 green jobs over seven years.

He said the BPU “has a meeting today that conflicts with this one in Trenton, or they would have been here to give testimony today.” McKeon said BPU President Lee Solomon may appear at a future hearing, should the committees decide to continue their examination.

Stephanie Brand, director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, said the state has to replace nuclear power that will be lost with the closing of Exelon’s Oyster Creek plant and, if clean energy is of interest, substitute a significant reliance on out-of-state coal power. But solar and wind is not going to get it done, she said; the state needs to develop more “base load energy.”

She said that contrary to some reports, the Energy Master Plan has no “pullback on energy efficiency standards,” and continues to allow energy efficiency rebates to residential customers.

While the lawmakers were meeting today, the BPU announced a $20 million pilot program “designed to promote self-investment in energy efficiency and combined heat and power distributive generation projects at the state’s largest commercial and industrial facilities.”

The board said the program will “create jobs through private investment, lower energy costs for all ratepayers and to help New Jersey businesses improve their competitiveness.”

“The Draft 2011 State Energy Master Plan identified energy efficiency as a priority in our efforts to reduce energy costs for all ratepayers, and improve the reliability of the regional grid,” said Solomon in a release. “This pilot program encourages the level of investment required to achieve significant energy savings for large energy users, while advancing the state’s goal of reducing energy consumption. Additionally, our Large Energy User Pilot Program will create and support high paying jobs, just as our energy efficiency programs for residential users and local governments have.”

More on BPU plan:  Dems look at legislative side of Energy Master Plan