Izzo: U.S. (and N.J.) can be leader in coming clean energy technologies

Ralph Izzo at COP26. (PSEG)

After meeting with global thought leaders and government heads at the Convention of Climate Change — better known as COP26 — in Glasgow, Scotland, Public Service Enterprise Group Chairman and CEO Ralph Izzo flew back to New Jersey on Wednesday with a definitive takeaway.

The U.S. — and New Jersey — can still play a leading role in developing and exporting the next set of clean energy technologies.

Izzo, through email from Europe, pointed to the efforts the state has made, and is making, when it comes to offshore wind energy — efforts that were applauded by the international community at COP26, he said.

“The international community, especially Europe, is far ahead of us with respect to offshore wind, so, while they are happy to see us engaged, they are not surprised by our efforts,” he wrote. “In fact, European companies are major players in U.S. offshore wind development.

“In conversations with U.S. senators who are here, there was strong interest in New Jersey leadership and how the federal government could help grow this new industry. So, there is unquestionable interest and enthusiasm.”

Izzo said the enthusiasm is deserved. The offshore wind industry, just in its infancy here, has the potential to have great impact in the coming months and years.

“The impact of offshore wind is being felt now,” Izzo said. “We have hired additional engineers, Ørsted has opened a New Jersey office and a Wind Port is under development in Salem County.

“Electricity is expected to begin being generated in the latter part of 2024. The wind projects already agreed to by the state are to be operational by 2029 and they will produce about 15 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. That’s enough electricity to power well over 1 million homes.”

Izzo answered a number of questions about efforts combating climate change in the U.S. Here is some of the exchange:

Solar panels in the American West. (ROI-NJ)

ROI-NJ: Full disclosure, while you are in Scotland, I am traveling around Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Sun is not an issue here. Neither is available land for solar farms. Yet, I see few solar efforts. Why is that? What happened to the push for solar that President Barack Obama made during his first term? Does solar still make sense moving forward? Is it being discussed at the conference?

Ralph Izzo: The late-breaking, exciting news about solar is that a project in Saudi Arabia has been able to produce electricity at 1.04 cents/kWh. That is simply amazing progress from not very long ago. Now, there is clearly a lot more sun and available land in Saudi Arabia than New Jersey.

As for solar in general, it isn’t that enthusiasm has decreased, but, rather, we now realize the urgency is so great that we must deploy every tool at our disposal.

ROI: What does that mean for New Jersey?

RI: I still believe securing nuclear power is critical, so we don’t backslide. Then, we should ramp up our efforts in energy efficiency and offshore wind, just given the natural advantages we have in these areas compared to solar.

ROI: How can government assist here?

RI: The Build Back Better legislation being discussed in Congress will provide tax incentives for carbon-free energy that will undoubtedly stimulate investment across the entire country.

ROI: PSEG and you personally have been raising the issues around the climate crisis for some time. The good news: It appears to be gaining momentum around the globe. How much better off is the planet than it was just a year or two ago — if it is? And how far does it need to go in the next year or two in an effort to catch up to urgency of the issue? What is the sense you are getting there?

RI: There is a bit of a mixed story about our progress. If I think about the pledges that came out of the Paris COP six years ago, we were at serious risk of blowing past 2 degrees centigrade of warming, which would have serious consequences. The latest estimate, based upon updated pledges here at COP, is that we may be able to keep the increase to 1.8 degrees. And some companies, PSEG for one, have banded together to try to set targets that can keep us below 1.5 degrees, which is what the scientific community strongly advises.

Global carbon emissions did decline last year, but that appears to have been caused by the economic contraction caused by COVID. Emissions are back on the rise now, which is obviously not good.

ROI: What can be done — and should be done — now?

RI: This is what makes U.S. leadership important. We can set an example for the rest of the world. And, by inference, that’s what makes New Jersey leadership important. We can set an example for the rest of our nation.