Renewable energy, regulatory framework among energy hearing topics

TRENTON – The importance of renewable energy programs, energy efficiency, and infrastructure location were among the topics at today’s hearing into Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed Energy Master Plan.

The final planned hearing – actually a continuation of an earlier hearing – featured a schedule of more than two dozen registered witnesses supporting, criticizing and analyzing aspects of the governor’s draft energy master plan.

Martin Kushler, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, raised a cautionary flag regarding the plan’s proposal to move from a societal benefits/certificates philosophy  to a self-sustaining revolving loan fund.

He warned that their national research has shown that such loan programs are plagued by low participation, benefit a “niche’’ customer, and “decimate’’ energy efficiency.

“The cleanest kilowatt hour is one you never have to generate,’’ he told the BPU committee, and said he fears this draft plan will cost New Jersey energy efficiency rather than promote it.

Steve Morgan, CEO of N.J.-based solar-power developer American Clean Energy, said a good solar-energy policy with a sound renewable energy certificates program “has the ability to take the operational grid to the next level of reliability.’’

But for the recession, New Jersey’s already solid solar energy achievements would have advanced even further, he said, adding he is concerned the governor’s plan does not understand the importance of a solar energy set-aside program.

He said a critical issue concerns where critical energy infrastructures, such as power plants, will be located, and he urged some state agency be given authority over siting issues and the power to override local control. Zoning boards can be overridden, he said, but it is a costly and contentious process rarely invoked.

“Market forces won’t work until siting concerns are met,’’ he said.

Bruce Burcat, executive director of wind-energy supporter the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, said the plan fails to consider the potential benefits of regional onshore wind energy.

And Chris Tomasini, vice president for business development at Ice Energy, said their company, which deals in the field of energy storage to improve grid load factors and enhance the value and efficiency of intermittent sources such as wind and solar, would like to shift manufacturing into New Jersey from New York.

He said their company sees some fertile ground in New Jersey for expanding and helping to relieve congestion and would like to see a regulatory framework put in place.

Previous coverage: Renewable energy, regulatory framework among energy hearing topics