Are gas stoves under fire again? BPU to begin ‘studying’ ways to reduce emissions from natural gas

About the vow that no one from the state is coming for anyone’s gas stove …

On Monday, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities voted to initiate a proceeding to formally engage with stakeholders concerning development of natural gas utility plans to reduce emissions from the natural gas sector to levels that are consistent with achieving the state’s 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2006 levels by 2030.

The board’s action was outlined in Executive Order 317 by Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb.  15 — which includes studies on … wait for it … the long-term impacts of the use of natural gas, including:

  • Long-term impacts on residential and industrial customers who fail to or are unable to switch away from natural gas, with particular attention to the needs of and barriers faced by low-income customers, and ways to reduce barriers to transition, including rate design, incentive structuring and pilot programs to accelerate infrastructure conversion;
  • Electric grid readiness to handle electrification of building heating and cooling, as well as transportation, including recommendations for shifting investment funding from natural gas to electric system infrastructure upgrades.

As a reminder, last month, Murphy said: “No one is coming for anyone’s gas stove. No one is walking into anyone’s kitchen. No one is going to be forced to do anything in any way.”

The BPU, however, is required to develop recommendations for how the natural gas industry can best meet the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse emissions. The recommendations will consider the cost and support for well-paying jobs, including union jobs, necessary to deliver on these goals.

As part of the order, the BPU also is required to consider the following:

  • Competitive market mechanisms to drive the lowest-cost methods for reducing total greenhouse gas emissions associated with the natural gas sector, including but not limited to adoption of a “clean heat” standard that would allow natural gas public utilities to select from a suite of measures to meet emission reduction standards, which may include accelerated energy efficiency and peak demand reduction targets, enhanced building electrification targets, leak minimization or other similar measures;
  • The need to ensure reliable operation and long-term financial viability of natural gas public utilities and the business model needed to keep the gas system intact while accounting for a shrinking customer base, including ensuring that gas distribution company growth assumptions and peak usage calculations factor into state decarbonization policies and minimize investment in new infrastructure so as to reduce risk of stranded asset costs;
  • Alternative programs and investments that could provide natural gas utilities with new revenue streams and promote good-paying jobs, including union jobs, such as the potential to convert existing pipeline infrastructure to provide decarbonized heating and cooling to New Jersey’s residents and businesses;
  • Elimination of subsidies that encourage unnecessary investment in natural gas infrastructure that is likely to result in stranded costs being passed on to customers.

The BPU said the process will go down this way.

Board staff will soon conduct a stakeholder process, including scheduling stakeholder meetings. The board said it anticipates robust engagement with key stakeholders, including organized labor and members of the public.

“This is perhaps the seminal climate issue of today,” BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso said. “As we fight the ravages of climate changes, which are brought about mainly by fossil fuels, we must do all we can to significantly reduce greenhouse gases and create a cleaner climate.”

“I am anticipating a robust stakeholder process, which will feature input from the gas utilities and other key stakeholders so that we might arrive at the best recommendations to enable the state to meet its clean energy goals.”