McKeon, Smith seek to counter Christie Energy Master Plan with eventual legislation

TRENTON – Assemblyman John McKeon, (D-27), South Orange, and Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said today they are preparing legislation to combat the governor’s scaling back of renewable energy goals and other aspects of his revised Energy Master Plan.

In advance of Thursday’s joint legislative hearing in Toms River, the lawmakers and environmentalists castigated Gov. Chris Christie for attempting to turn back the clock on New Jersey’s progress as a leader in alternative energy.

The hearing slated for Thursday will be used to gather input that can be incorporated into eventual proposed legislation as well as counter the three Board of Public Utilities hearings already held into the Energy Master Plan, at which lawmakers and environmentalists say the atmosphere has been decidedly pro-business and anti-alternative energy.

Among other things, Smith and McKeon talked today of promoting through legislation the societal benefits charges, in which utilities incorporate into their rates funding for programs such as clean energy, consumer education, and other initiatives.

In addition, they want solar renewable energy credits directed more toward residential customers and not primarily just businesses.

They and representatives from organizations such as Environment New Jersey, N.J. Environmental Federation, the Association of N.J. Environmental Commissions, and the N.J. Sierra Club said what helped make New Jersey the No. 2 solar energy state in the nation is legislation that shaped policy.

But the governor’s plan, which among other things will reduce the renewable energy goal from 30 percent to 22.5 percent, will be a jobs killer, the clean energy advocates argued.

Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, said that the BPU hearings are taking testimony primarily from business advocates and not from the residents who are going to be most affected.

“What we’ve seen time and time again,’’ he said, “is praise from big industry and big polluters (for the governor’s plan).”

The Legislature’s hearing, lawmakers and environmentalists said, is necessary to represent that opposing point of view.

Redoing the Energy Master Plan, Smith said, “set a neon sign blinking and glowing to the alternative energy development community that the state is not as committed as it used to be.’’

He and McKeon said the solar energy program has created 9,000 solar installations, and there have been more than 26,000 “green’’ jobs overall.

“What we need is consistency,” McKeon said, “It begins and ends with some way potentially of legislating the renewable energy goals back to where they were.”

In addition, Smith said, the master plan does not pay enough attention to reducing energy consumption. A program such as the employer mandatory trip-reduction program that was being developed in the early 1990s, but was not enacted, must be revisited, he said, because it would encourage telecommuting and car-pooling.

The legislative hearing of the Assembly and Senate environment committees will be at 10 a.m. at the Toms River Town Hall.

BPU criticism 

David Pringle of the N.J. Environmental Federation called the three hearings held by BPU a “farce.’’

BPU President Lee Solomon, Pringle said, “has been critical and sarcastic’’ and interrupted environmental advocates.

Others said BPU allowed witnesses on behalf of industry to speak first. Jeff Tittel of N.J. Sierra Club said more than 40 of the group’s members were not allowed to speak.

But BPU spokesman J. Gregory Reinert dismissed the environmentalists’ criticisms.

He said he attended all three hearings – at Newark, Trenton, and Pomona – and pointed out that hearings ran late to ensure everybody was heard, and the hearing at Trenton had to be continued to Aug. 24 at Room 11 of the Statehouse Annex in order to ensure all the testimony is taken.

“Everybody was given the same amount of time,’’ Reinert said. “They had every bit as much time as the industry people.’’ Solomon was respectful of witnesses but did challenge some when they stated things that are not in the master plan, Reinert said.

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McKeon, Smith seek to counter Christie Energy Master Plan with eventual legislation