Op-Ed: NJ needs to rethink Energy Master Plan, prioritize affordable energy

While we were all quarantining at home and keeping our families safe, the state of New Jersey continued to move forward with one of the most impactful policy shifts in state history, implementation of the Energy Master Plan. Even if well-intentioned at the time of its release in February, the EMP was unrealistic then and is even less feasible now, as the COVID-19 pandemic puts our state, our residents and our businesses under financial strain. 

In fact, a new report from Affordable Energy for New Jersey and energy expert Jonathan Lesser has found that the EMP will cost businesses and residents at least $2 billion per year — and potentially far more. At a time when our state faces unprecedented financial crisis and many residents are struggling to pay their bills, that’s a cost New Jersey simply can’t afford to pay. 

Home heating alone poses an immense burden for our state if the bureaucrats behind the EMP have their way. The EMP calls for replacing inexpensive natural-gas heat with electric heaters. That’s all well and good, until we realize that millions of our residents — as high as 75% — rely on these systems in their homes and in businesses. Retrofitting three-quarters of our home-heating supply will costs tens of thousands of dollars for each electric heat pump, totaling tens of billions alone. 

On the flip side, estimates suggest that the PennEast pipeline would have saved residents hundreds of millions in winter heating and electric costs in one season. Expanding our clean natural-gas supplies will lower costs and create jobs at a time when we sorely need them. But the Murphy administration and the EMP would rather grind these projects to a halt and force our residents to stop using natural gas. 

That’s the story of the EMP — well-intentioned, rosy-eyed proposals to electrify this and “modernize” that, without fully considering the total costs at hand. Everywhere we turn, the plan places new costs on hardworking New Jerseyans, with only limited environmental upside. We need smarter policy. 

Technologies like electric heating, solar and wind power and other innovations certainly have a place in New Jersey. It’s encouraging that many residents and businesses have pursued them to help lower our carbon footprint. But we need proven solutions like clean natural gas to help lower costs and provide stable, reliable energy for all. We need a practical, actionable energy policy, not a one-size-fits-all approach. 

To make matters more confusing, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently released New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act 80×50 Report, which purports to detail actionable steps to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The DEP acknowledges that achieving “steep and permanent” cuts in emissions would require effectively eliminating gas-powered cars within the next 10 years, among other dramatic and costly measures. Yet it does not begin to discuss what this will cost New Jersey’s residents and businesses. 

There’s a theme here — when energy policy is concerned, the state too often ignores the cost question or relies on rosy, nigh-on-impossible projects. New Jerseyans need clear, concrete policy initiatives, not guessing games that hurt their wallets. 

We know that natural gas is cost-effective, abundant and inexpensive. The technology is already there, not years away from large-scale production. And industries across the state rely heavily on it. Why fix what isn’t broken? 

New Jersey urgently needs solutions to keep our energy costs down, grow our economy and simultaneously improve the environment. We have the tools for the job at our disposal, but the EMP won’t get the job done. Now is the time to get started. 

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New Report Shows NJ Energy Plan Will Cost Taxpayers Billions Per Year

Affordable Energy for New Jersey and Dr. Jonathan Lesser Release Report Findings

Today, Affordable Energy for New Jersey (AENJ), along with well-known energy expert Dr. Jonathan Lesser, the president of Continental Economics, Inc., released a new report that shows a grim future for New Jersey under the state’s Energy Master Plan (EMP). His analysis shows that the EMP’s building electrification mandates alone will cost businesses and residents in New Jersey at least $2 billion per year – a substantial increase our state cannot afford.

The EMP, New Jersey’s 100% clean energy roadmap, while commendable in theory, includes numerous costly mandates for electrifying the entire transportation industry, eliminating clean natural gas, and other shortsighted policies that could drastically impact the economy, at a time when our residents and businesses are already under financial strain.

The new report, titled Natural Gas: Crucial for New Jersey’s Energy and Economic Future, highlights the importance of clean, affordable natural gas in New Jersey and the astronomical cost increases that will be shouldered by residents if these new mandates from the EMP are allowed to proceed. Under the EMP, millions of residents and businesses will be forced to replace their gas-fired heating systems, and all other gas appliances, with electric heat pumps, costing them tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.Continue reading

Look before you leap on Electric Vehicles

There is an old saying to look before you leap because you may not like where you land. That concept has never been more appropriate than when examining and discussing the idea of moving forward and converting toward electric Vehicles.

While the idea may make people excited and sound good to some, new reports should raise concerns and cause pause as they have focused on battery fires prompting worldwide recalls and delays in production of vehicles.

We need to make sure we are utilizing proven technology as we make changes because rushing ahead with unproven concepts to fulfill a slogan will leave people stranded without power.

Op-Ed: N.J. needs to tackle energy costs, now more than ever

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may seem as if other important issues have faded from the public eye. In reality, the pandemic means that we must redouble our focus on the day-to-day issues facing New Jersey’s residents, or else face skyrocketing costs at a time when we can least afford them.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces governments at all levels to contend with revenue shortfalls, it is more important than ever to invest in a diverse, balanced and affordable energy portfolio that will keep costs low for those who live and work in New Jersey.

According to a newly-released whitepaper from Affordable Energy for New Jersey, New Jersey faces a “cost chasm” in the energy sector — one that threatens to increase costs for businesses and residents and could leave us with a fragile, less reliable grid. Fortunately, there is a path to affordable, clean and stable energy systems in our state, and we have the tools to get there.Continue reading

Op-Ed: Locating solar arrays on farmland or other open acreage is a bad idea

In 2012 I wrote two opinion articles on solar projects and farmland. Following those articles I was asked to testify in a number of cases where residents were trying to fight the siting of solar projects on farmlands. In some cases we were successful, but in others we lost. As a lifelong environmentalist and a licensed professional planner, I found that it was difficult to deal with the conflict between the need for clean energy and the need to preserve farmlands and woodlands. Nevertheless, I decided that given the many other suitable locations for solar projects — such as rooftops, parking lots, landfills, and unused land — it made sense to fight for the resources that couldn’t easily be replaced. Since that time there has been a significant reduction in the demand to utilize farmland and woodlands for solar projects. However, a recent bill, S-2605 is reenergizing the debate.

In 2012 I wrote, “Real farming — the production of food — is what the Garden State has been about for hundreds of years …. When they think of New Jersey, most Americans think of the Turnpike, industrial parks, suburban and urban housing or the Shore. It is difficult for them to imagine that we have thousands of acres dedicated to farming …. Protecting the environment is not just about clean water and clean air; it is also about protecting our ability to live on the Earth.”

According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, “To date, New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program has resulted in the permanent protection of over 2,600 farms, accounting for more than 237,000 acres — or roughly one-third of all farmland in the state.”  This effort has been recognized as the top-ranked in the nation, according to the American Farmland Trust. Under S-2605 these lands would be exempt from utility-scale solar projects. However, this still leaves 513,000 acres that could be utilized for solar projects.Continue reading

Is your electric bill sky-high? 7 On Your Side has tips to offset costs

Did you suffer sticker shock at your last electric bill? It’s not just the air conditioning, but with so many people working from home, you’re also cooking more, running the dishwasher and doing laundry.

The last power bill was a shocker for Cristina Gordon, who is running her company “C Bee PR” out of her home alongside her husband, an insurance executive, and their baby girl.

“We were working from home of course,” Gordon said. “But we are fairly good at turning the A/C down and the lights. So it was really a shock.”

In March, the family’s PSE&G bill was $135, with increased usage every month throughout the pandemic. The last bill doubled $344 bucks.

“Oh my gosh, why such a jump,” Gordon questioned.

She’s not alone, as 7 On Your Side was flooded on Facebook about high bills.

“Usage is up 48 percent,” Karinna complained.

My bill says, “I’m up 45% from last July,” laments teacher Deb Paulsen.

So, 7 On Your Side asked PSE&G to analyze the Gordon’s bill.

They recommended installing a smart meter at their new home to monitor usage, using programmable thermostats and swapping out old for new Energy Star appliances to save money, plus earn discounts and rebates.

More ways to save:

– Clean out the A/C filters each month during the summer months
– Use ceiling fans and
– Switch to more energy efficient LED light bulbs

Also, asking your employer if they can set up allowances on business-related expenses can’t hurt. Twitter gave employees a one-time, 1,000 productivity allowance to set up things like your at home desk setups.

Also don’t forget if you add up what it costs to commute, park and eat at your office. Your energy bill may be a lot less comparatively.

Coronavirus Shutdowns Shift Energy Costs to Individuals

Beginning in March, when businesses across the country snapped off the lights and sent employees home to curb the spread of Covid-19, overall electricity consumption declined.

But household energy use surged, with some New York City apartments consuming, on average, 23% more electricity during business hours—a shift that, with the accompanying expense, could make things worse for those already suffering financially as a consequence of the pandemic.

The double-digit increases occurred on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. across nearly 300 city apartments whose energy habits researchers at Columbia University had monitored since 2018.

I’ve Got the PowerSome New York City apartments consumed,on average, 23% more electricity duringbusiness hours while a stay-at-home orderwas in effect to curb the spread of Covid-19.Weekday use
.watts used, on averagePre-stay-at-homeStay-at-home4 a.m.8 a.m.noon4 p.m.9 p.m.150200250300350400450500550

Weekend useSource: Columbia University study under the Benefitprogram of the U.S. Department of Energy BuildingTechnologies Office.Notes: Weekdays stay-at-home (March 30-April 3,2020); pre-stay-at-home (March 2-6, 2020).Weekends stay-at-home (April 4-5, 2020); pre-stay-at-home (March 7-8, 2020)
.watts used, on averagePre-stay-at-homeStay-at-home4 a.m.8 a.m.noon4 p.m.8 p.m.150200250300350400450500550

The apartments, they said, roughly match the diversity of the city’s residential building stock, and the researchers anticipated that other areas of the country observing stay-at-home orders would have experienced similar changes in energy use.

“I see air conditioning as the big load,” said Vijay Modi, a professor of mechanical engineering who helped design and conduct the study. “There were 20 days in the month that you didn’t use air conditioning from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and now you do. That’s 160 hours of air conditioning.”

One small window unit, he estimated, might add $12 to $15 to someone’s monthly utility bill—a cost that would vary by region, with average rates ranging from less than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour in Louisiana to nearly 31 cents in Hawaii.

Overall, weekday electricity use in the apartments included in the study increased by 7% after New York’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 22, while weekend use rose by 4%.

But the total amount of electricity consumed by residences at the height of the lockdown never matched the volume typically swallowed by commercial properties, even as many workers set up shop at home.

To explain the mismatch, Dr. Modi ticked off some of the ways the two differ: “Commercial buildings use far more lighting per square foot,” he said. “They have elevators. They must circulate air and water across the whole building. The mechanical room may be downstairs and have to pump stuff up to the 15th floor.”

All of that adds up to greater electrical demand and, when shut down, larger energy savings.

From the beginning of the lockdown, New York state consistently used 6% to 8% less electricity than normal, according to estimates by the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electric grid and wholesale market.

In the city, the decreases were greater.

There, overall energy use declined by as much as 15%, and at times within the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. window, when energy use typically ramps up as people arrive at work, the decline was as high as 21%.

Other parts of the country experienced similar decreases.

Daily weekday electricity demand across the central region of the U.S. dropped by 9% to 13% in March and April compared with expected demand, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and demand in most of Michigan and Wisconsin was 11% to 16% lower, fueled in part by the March 18 decision by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co.and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the three major car manufacturers based in Detroit, to begin closing their facilities.

During the 2008 recession, New York state saw an underrun of 1.9% in annual energy consumption, according to Zachary Smith, vice president of planning for the New York Independent System Operator. By the second quarter of 2010, consumption had returned to normal.

New York’s energy use has already crept up since businesses began slowly reopening in June, but overall consumption is still lower than normal, and forecasters predict the decreases could last for a year or more.

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“Right now, things have leveled off,” Mr. Smith said. “We see a reduction of about 3%. We anticipate it will continue for some time, most likely through all of 2021, and possibly well into 2022.”

But after this year’s unprecedented disruption, with many employees continuing to work from home, it’s unclear how a return to normal will look.

“What will work habits be once the economic recovery happens?” Mr. Smith said. “In the past, people would go back to work. Here, people will go back to work. But what does back to work mean?”

If businesses find they can reduce expenses by making the home office permanent, the shift from commercial to residential electricity use could be the pandemic’s lasting lightbulb moment.

Write to Jo Craven McGinty at Jo.McGinty@wsj.com

New Data Suggest COVID-19 Is Shifting the Burden of Energy Costs to Households

The global reach of COVID-19 is impacting almost everybody, and New York City is squarely at the epicenter. The metropolis is largely shut down, and while some have left the city, most residents remain, sheltering in place under a statewide order that went into effect on March 22. Excepting essential workers, almost everyone else is home nearly 24-7, conducting work, schooling and everything else in life—all from the confines of a New York City apartment.

Through a study that began in 2018 and is continuing today to observe electricity consumption across some 400 New York City apartments, we have been able to quantify how apartment-level electricity consumption has changed after the stay-at-home order. While the New York Independent System Operator reported that the city’s total electricity usage was 2 to 18 percent below normal for the week ending April 3, we have actually seen substantial increases in consumption for the residential sector.

Overall, weekday electricity use in apartments increased by 7 percent after the stay-at-home order, while weekend use increased by 4 percent. Total New York City electricity use still decreased for the same periods simply because nonresidential sectors such as office buildings and businesses use a larger portion of the city’s total electricity.

During the Monday-to-Friday 9am-to-5pm window, when most household members would normally be at work, at school or engaging in other activities outside the home, increases were even larger: We see a 23 percent increase in average apartment-level electricity consumption during those times. This additional daytime consumption, which normally would be met by employers or institutions, has now been shifted to individuals. For the many New Yorkers already suffering from the economic consequences of the crisis, any increase in monthly energy bills will only make matters worse.

Electricity use averaged across the nearly 300 apartments in our study that were occupied both before and after the March 22 stay-at-home order. The black lines depict use for the week Monday March 2 to Sunday March 8 (pre- stay-at-home) while the red lines depict use for the week Monday March 30 to Sunday April 5 (post- stay-at-home). We illustrate both weekday (Mon-Fri; left) and weekend (Sat-Sun; right) trends.

We also see shifts in load during the weekday morning hours. The pre- stay-at-home morning ramp-up in residential load — which started about 6am and peaked at 7:30am, and then declined — no longer occurs. Instead, stay-at-home behavior shows a softer ramp-up that starts at 6am, reaches the level of the pre-stay-at-home morning peak at 9am, then continues to rise throughout the morning and early afternoon. This load shift for weekday mornings also shows up in the overall city-level consumption pattern observed by NYISO. And it mirrors observations made by others that morning residential weekday electricity usage now looks more like the weekend.

Heating in most New York City apartments is provided by central building-level systems. Therefore, our study does not capture any additional heating-related increases in energy usage where people live in individual houses. And, it should be noted that if the stay-at-home order extends beyond the current May 15 deadline into the hotter months, the additional electricity needed to cool apartments with window air-conditioners or fans will only increase the burden of energy costs on households. Additional daytime summer cooling loads could result in afternoon peak loads that are higher and more sustained in ways that might adversely impact the stability of the grid.

There is no reason to expect that the changes we are observing in New York City are not occurring in other U.S. regions, or elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, in places where energy loads are primarily residential, and there is not a proportional reduction in nonresidential load, we would expect to see total energy demands increasing — along with higher risk for disruptions to existing energy supply and distribution systems.

Energy systems are the backbone of most economies. They are also essential to medical care, scientific research, manufacturing and other crucial activities needed to battle the pandemic. A better understanding of how energy usage is shifting between sectors may help prevent disruptions to these systems. Such understanding can also highlight how shifts in usage between sectors may further deepen the financial inequities created by the economic crisis that is accompanying this pandemic.

Statement from AENJ Executive Director, Ron Morano, on NJTransit/FTA Record of Decision on NJTransit Resiliency Power Plant

(Ewing, NJ)- Ron Morano, Executive Director of Affordable Energy for New Jersey, released the following statement about yesterday’s “Combined Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision” from New Jersey Transit and the Federal Transportation Authority on building a resiliency power plant in the Meadowlands for New Jersey Transit.

“Time and again, affordable and reliable natural gas has been the solution to New Jersey’s ever-changing energy needs. The Affordable Energy for New Jersey coalition applauds New Jersey Transit and the Federal Transportation Authority — whose statement of decision yesterday is another step forward to real resiliency for NJTransit and its ridership. This wasn’t a decision they took lightly; they looked at options such as wind and solar, and none met the test. In the end, natural gas won the day because it’s the smart and prudent way to power New Jersey.”

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A Message from Affordable Energy for New Jersey Executive Director Ron Morano

Dear Friends,

I hope you all are safe and healthy during this unprecedented time. Together, we can and will beat the COVID-19 pandemic, because as a state, we’re unified in this fight. We will continue our sheltering at home and social distancing until we beat this virus.

With the closing of all non-essential businesses and unemployment at an all-time high, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents and businesses are suffering financially. That is why it is all the more critical that when we’re on the other side of this, we fight against overburdening our families financially.

The Affordable Energy for New Jersey coalition, with the help of all of you, is bringing together the voices of our state from all corners who believe that the new Energy Master Plan is not a realistic and sustainable path to greening our environment and our economy. Together, we are working to address critical flaws in the new Plan and to defend New Jersey residents and small businesses from being burdened with high energy costs.

We are grateful for your support and leadership during this troubling time. Over the coming weeks, you’ll hear more from us about the importance of affordable and reliable energy for all New Jerseyans.

Thank you and stay safe.
Sincerely,

Ron Morano
Executive Director
Affordable Energy for New Jersey