New Jersey: A Leader in Renewable Energy

The garden state is among the country’s leaders in clean electricity, with its long shoreline offering an ideal opportunity to put the wind to work. In June 2022, solar and other renewable resources provided almost 10% of the state’s power. Only nine states had a lower CO2 emissions rate — the amount of carbon dioxide one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generates — in 2020 than New Jersey.  

To keep pace with the renewable energy market in the future, however, New Jersey has a few challenges to overcome. But first, let’s look at the history of its energy market.

NJ’s History of Renewable Energy

NJ adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard in 1999 — one of the first states in the nation to do so. This standard requires states to source a specific percentage of their energy from renewable sources and that by 2030, at least half of the energy sold in NJ will come from qualifying renewable sources. But that’s not all!

  • NJ’s 2020 Energy Master Plan sets an ambitious goal for the state to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050.
  • NJ joined 10 other Eastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a plan requiring fossil fuel plants over 25 MW to purchase or trade allowances with other power producers for each ton of CO2 emitted. Power plants can also earn allowances through projects designed to offset CO2 emissions.
  • The state joined the US Climate Alliance in 2018. This coalition of 24 states, committed to upholding the United Nation’s Paris Climate Accord, represents nearly 60% of the US economy and almost 55% of the country’s population. 
  • A 2010 law — the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act — incentivizes the creation of offshore wind power facilities to support the state’s goal to produce 7,500 MW from offshore wind by or before 2035.
  • The 2018 Clean Energy Act required solar power to generate 5.1% of the state’s electricity by 2021 — a goal the state surpassed as it became the country’s ninth-largest producer of solar energy that year, with solar power accounting for almost 7% of in-state electricity production.

New Jersey’s Wind and Solar Capacity

The Clean Energy Act set a target of 5.1% for solar power energy generation, which NJ beat by 2020. The state established itself as the country’s sixth-biggest solar energy producer, generating 6.5% of its energy from the sun. And the state ranked third in small-scale solar power production (think rooftop solar panels), which is also impressive. The state has set an ambitious goal of building 7,500 MW of offshore wind projects by 2035 — as of 2021, the Board of Public Utilities had approved 3,700 MW of these projects.

Achieving these goals also requires that New Jersey reduce its reliance on natural gas. It’s used heavily for heating — and generated about half the state’s electricity in 2020. However, one silver lining of the pandemic was the 25% reduction in power reduction thanks to decreased demands resulting from office and other closures. Maintaining hybrid- or fully remote (work-from-home) arrangements could help support the state’s transition from relying on natural gas. 

Energy Policy Legislation

In 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation designed to accelerate NJ’s transition to clean energy — with a goal of 100% clean energy generation by 2050. This four-bill package included:

  • Establishing the SuSi program, which succeeded the SREC Registration Program and Transition Incentive Program.
  • A pilot program for supporting dual-use solar projects on farmland. The projects enable existing farms to produce solar energy and food simultaneously.
  • Guidance on charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. The federal government plans to expand the current network of 110,000 public chargers to at least 500,000 nationwide by 2030. One bill would include a requirement for parking facilities to earmark a minimum number of spaces as future EV charging spaces. They don’t currently need stations installed yet but should have the infrastructure to add them as needed.
  • The other bill supports the installation of charging infrastructure in redevelopment projects.

Wave and tidal energy are another exciting addition to the state’s clean energy portfolio. The state’s 130-mile coastline offers another potential source of renewable energy: tidal power. However, plants are expensive and challenging to build. In 2022, a bill was introduced to the state Assembly requesting a study to determine the potential value of harvesting energy from the ocean.

The Future of Solar & Wind Energy

NJ is well on its way to reaching its 100% clean energy goal. But challenges remain, including an extreme slowdown in solar installations throughout the state and concerns about wind turbine visibility from shore. 

Concerns stated by solar developers include a lack of robust incentives from the new SuSI Program — much less than the more generous Transition Incentive and SREC Registration programs. Another road bump? Spiking costs due in large part to lingering supply chain issues from 2020. Eventuallpricessts will drop, but some experts wonder whether the SuSI incentives are high enough.

Meanwhile, some groups worry that off-coast wind facilities will affect views from iconic NJ destinations, including its beaches and wetlands, to the famous Lucy the Elephant. Others fear that the high visibility of turbines will impact rentals and reduce tourism and perhaps contribute to the death of marine life. Installations may face lawsuits from those parties worried about offshore wind projects.

An Even More Ambitious Goal

While the federal government expects states to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050, Governor Murphy signed an executive order on February 15, 2023, committing the state to achieve this goal 15 years sooner — by 2035. 

“We’ve turned our vision for a greener tomorrow into a responsible and actionable roadmap to guide us, and it’s through that pragmatic, evidence-based approach that we will ultimately arrive at our destination. Combined with our federal partnerships reinforced through the Inflation Reduction Act, these comprehensive initiatives will better protect and prepare every New Jersey community, including those on the front lines of climate change who have previously been left out and left behind,” the governor said.

The state wants to achieve 2,000 MW of installed energy storage in seven years to increase the electric grid’s resiliency, reduce carbon emissions, and facilitate the transition to 100% renewable energy, establishing NJ as an eco-friendly state committed to sustainability. Other elements include:

  • Installing zero-carbon-emission heating and cooling systems in 20,000 commercial and 400,000 residential properties and ensuring 10% of low-to-moderate income properties are electrification-ready by 2030.
  • Allocating $70 million to reduce upfront consumer costs for medium- and heavy-duty EV adoption.
  • Leveraging NJ PACT REAL rules to offer enhanced flood protection for businesses, homeowners, and infrastructure located in coastal and riverine areas.
  • Requiring all new cars and light-duty truck sales be for zero-emission vehicles as part of Advanced Clean Cars II, by 2035.
  • Creating a future plan for natural gas utility in the state.

A 2021 New Jersey Economic Development Authority report projects that the clean energy industry will create at least 27,000 new jobs and add nearly $5 billion to the state’s economy by 2030 — another reason to champion the transition to clean energy.

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