Recently the Republican and the Democratic candidates for NJ governor addressed renewable energy. NJ needs renewable energy. The Country and the World needs the switch to renewable energy. Christie’s website indicates we have one of the strongest renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), but rank 48th in the country for renewable energy generation. Why? Well according to the EIA a vast majority of the renewable energy capacity and generation in the country is hydro power. NJ does not have a lot of hydro possibilities. So, if you take out hydro from the calculations, I am not so sure that NJ is doing so badly. For example, NJ is second only to California in solar generation. Granted NJ is a long way down from California but it is still ahead of 48 other states. Take a look at NJ is #2 in Solar and seeking to increase.
After hearing and reading about Chris Christie’s stump for renewable energy, I took at look at his website for more information on how he plans on getting us to the promised land of more renewable energy. With two exceptions the plan was a little sparse. Lots of rhetoric and not a lot of detail. Mr. Christie indicates that one of his methods encourage manufacturers of renewable energy systems to build plants here is to offer a credit of up to 100% corporate business tax or the insurance premium tax. I am not going to delve into the murky depths of whether a 100% tax credit is good or bad. I do wonder how a tax credit encourages the installation of renewable energy in NJ. The plan may or may not encourage companies to locate here, but it does not affect the actually installation of systems in NJ.
Christie also pledges to make solar farms a permitted use under our land use laws. He also pledges to require all landfills to install renewable energy systems on their properties. Lastly, he would allow up to 20% of a preserved farm to be used for solar farms instead of traditional farming products, i.e. vegetables, fruits, etc. There is no mention in his plan on how he will encourage and grow the use of wind energy in the State.
On the other hand, Gov. Corzine’s campaign website has no mention of a renewable energy plan. I presume he will point to the Energy Master Plan released late last year. That plan calls for 1000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2012 (that time frame looks to be way off, please see my post on MMS leases), and an increase in renewable energy generation to 30% by 2020 from the current goals of 22.5%. Those are good goals. But like the Christie plan goals without real concrete steps on how to reach them are not useful. The EMP is short on implementation. As noted above, NJ is not going to have 1000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2012.
Christies plan for solar farms on preserved farmlands is in one shape or form already in the works. S1538 was introduced in the Senate on March 17, 2008. It would allow wind, solar and biomass generation on up to 1% of the farmland including preserved farmland. The bill was passed in the Senate in June 25, 2009 and referred to the Assembly appropriations committee. An Assembly version was heard and reported out of committee, but it has not been considered by the full Assembly yet. With the upcoming elections in the Assembly, it may not be voted on by the full house until after the November elections.
There is also a bill (S1303) that would define wind and solar generation systems as inherently beneficial for land use purposes. This bill has passed out of both houses and is waiting for the Governor’s signature. That bill took almost a year and half to get where it is now. Hopefully the governor signs it into law. This bill is not the full measure that Christie calls for, but is a very small step in the right direction.
Last year the State did enact a law last year that prohibits municipalities from considering the value of renewable energy systems when calculating a properties value. That is a good step in encouraging people and businesses to install renewable energy systems. The law removes a perverse disincentive to renewable energy.
While it is good that both the Democratic and the Republican candidates have made renewable energy a part of their campaign, the State, its citizens and the environment needs more than rhetoric. The State needs to take the goals of the EMP and to implement them in an effective and efficient manner. The State will have to move several pieces of legislation in order to meet the 30% RPS goals some of which are noted above.
One of the most important steps to bringing renewable energy jobs and renewable energy to NJ is the removal of State and local impediments to renewable energy installation even the 22.5% goals by 2021 that are currently in place are unreachable. I have also called for the passage of a state law that would prohibit municipalities from restricting the installation of renewable energy systems. I have published an article discussing the conflicts between renewable energy and land use law. So far no legislator has been willing to introduce that legislation to would truly move the State to a renewable energy future. I do not believe that such legislation should not be earth shattering but would be a change in emphasis. We would be putting teeth in our current land use laws that require:
NJSA 40:55D-2. It is the intent and purpose of this act:
a. To encourage municipal action to guide the appropriate use or development of all lands in this State, in a manner which will promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare;
j. To promote the conservation of historic sites and districts, open space, energy resources and valuable natural resources in the State and to prevent urban sprawl and degradation of the environment through improper use of land;
n. To promote utilization of renewable energy resources . . .
Proposed legislation would elevate the goals of the land use laws to requirements for municipalities to meet. Municipal restrictions on renewable energy should be prohibited by state law unless there is a true public health and safety issue. This proposed legislation would be in line with laws already in places like California and Wisconsin. Such legislation would put teeth into the goals of NJ’s land use laws and to coordinate the States strong goals of promoting renewable energy. Hopefully, who ever the next Governor of NJ is, that person keeps their commitment to renewable energy and puts in place measures to really meet those commitments.