Murphy launches statewide Clean Buildings Working Group

Governor says making buildings energy efficient is required to reach clean energy goals — but does not address issue of cost

Gov. Phil Murphy — saying the road to his 100% clean energy goals needs to hit all aspects of energy use — announced Monday that the state is starting a Clean Buildings Working Group that will study how to bring efficiency to one of the biggest contributors to state’s carbon footprint.

The working group, led by Jane Cohen, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy, and Joe Fiordaliso, the president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, will serve as a cross-sector collaborative of stakeholders and experts in industry, government, building science, organized labor, environmental justice and workforce development, the Governor’s Office said.

The group’s goal will be to inform pathways to greener, cleaner buildings — a challenge that Murphy acknowledges is complex.

Murphy, speaking at the New Jersey Clean Energy Conference in Atlantic City, said the potential payoff will be worth it.

“We will transform our building stock to be cleaner and greener for future generations,” he said. “We know that this will be a win-win for both the environment and the economy. It will create good jobs in the construction trades and allow us to tap into the years of experience of those already in the industry.”

As is the norm for energy proposals, no cost estimate was given. The idea of transforming boilers to electric units has been cited as being cost-prohibitive by opponents. The Governor’s Office said the working group will lay out recommendations for policy, legislative, workforce and funding strategies, but did not give a timeline for when that could be expected.

Murphy, who has made clean energy a top priority of his administration, said the state already is on track to have roughly 85% of its state’s energy derived from non-greenhouse gas-emitting sources by the end of this decade, but that the final 15% would be harder to achieve.

He offered that transforming the energy efficiency of buildings is one of the biggest hurdles the state needs to overcome to meet the goal of 100% clean energy state economy and a reduction of emissions by 80% from 2006 levels by 2050.

“This goes far beyond making sure the walls and windows are insulated — the stuff we usually think about when we think of energy efficiency,” he told an audience of 600. “The leakage extends right to the hearts of the of those buildings, down into the mechanical rooms, heating and cooling systems, water systems, electrical conversion and storage, if it’s a building with a solar roof, etc.”

The working group, he said, will aim to make the current building stock more energy efficient and work to ensure that new buildings are even more so.

“The decarbonization of our building stock is a complicated endeavor,” Murphy said. “It will require a skilled workforce to employ new green building technologies. It will further require making needed health and safety repairs to low- and moderate-income housing to get them to the starting line for beneficial electrification. And will it require deploying deep federal investments in green building technology equitably across communities.”

Cohen said the group will tackle tough challenges.

“The Murphy administration is harnessing the power of innovation and cross-cutting partnerships to confront the increasing urgency of climate change,” she said. “Climate impacts will affect us all, and, so, the strategies we deploy must similarly involve all New Jerseyans, from business and labor leaders to communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.

“The Clean Buildings Working Group will ensure that every voice is heard as we pursue the decarbonization of the buildings sector, a critical component of the administration’s efforts to significantly reduce emissions while spurring green buildings job growth.”

Fiordaliso agreed.

The group

Along with representatives from the Board of Public Utilities, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Community Affairs, Economic Development Authority and Treasury, the working group will include the following members — a list the state said it expects will grow:

  • Donnell Baird, BlocPower
  • Dale Bryk, senior fellow of energy and environment, Regional Planning Association
  • Debra Coyle, Work Environment Council
  • Amy Cradic, New Jersey Natural Gas
  • Heather Deese, Dandelion Energy
  • Steven Gardner, Laborers
  • Kevin Kenney, Operating Engineers Local 68
  • Jason Kliwinski, New Jersey Green Building Center
  • Michael Kornitas, Rutgers Center for Green Building
  • Ian Leonard, IBEW
  • Melissa Miles, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance
  • Eric Miller, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Nicole Miller, Principal of MnM Consulting, member of the N.J. Progressive Equitable Energy Coalition
  • Mike Psihoules, Fujitsu
  • Jared Rodriguez, adviser, LeFrak Builders
  • AJ Sabath, Building Trades
  • Andre Thomas, training manager, Isles NJ
  • Charles Wowkanech, NJ AFL-CIO

“Building decarbonization remains a priority of the board and is a key aspect of the Energy Master Plan,” he said. “Bringing together a cohort of experts under this one umbrella is a great way to not only develop innovative solutions for a priority of the administration’s Climate Action Agenda and receive the input of stakeholders, but to achieve the buy-in of all of the key interested parties that will help us achieve the best solution or solutions possible.”

Murphy said improving the efficiency in buildings will require a public-private partnership. He noted the recently announced 3.4-megawatt solar rooftop project at Uniqlo’s new Phillipsburg distribution facility as an example.

“Accomplishing our aggressive but achievable emissions reduction targets requires a comprehensive approach to climate action, one that unites the state, labor, industry and communities in pursuit of a common goal,” he said.

“Public and private entities must work not only together, but hand in hand with the communities they serve, to explore every possible avenue for climate mitigation. From the buildings in which we live and work to the vehicles that safely bring us there, my administration remains committed to a multi-pronged approach to emissions reduction in New Jersey.”