Energy: Insights from Mike Makarski of Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative, ELEC 825

External affairs lead for Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative, ELEC 825, had a lot to say at our recent panel discussion. Here are some highlights

On IUOE 825 being ready to assist with energy infrastructure needs

It’s a really exciting time, but there’s also a lot of clarification that’s needed. We are large proponents of diversified energy. We do a lot of work in the natural gas space and we’re happy to build solar and build offshore wind. We’re ready to go on Day One — but there’s still a lot of discussion around when construction is going to start. We’re ready jump into the cranes when needed.

On getting clarity

The Governor’s Office through their Energy Master Plan said they wanted to have 100% clean energy by 2050, which then became 2040, which is now 2035. We’re a little unclear on what that is supposed to be. The other thing we’re unclear of is: What is the role of natural gas going to be in the future? Almost 80% of all homes in the state use natural gas, and almost 90% of our electricity currently comes from some combination of nuclear and natural gas. 

Unfortunately, the administration has been a little cagey, and, at times, adversarial, with the natural gas industry. For us in the trades, that is concerning, because until there is offshore wind work, and until there is offshore transmission work, the total number of man hours in the energy space is widely dominated by the natural gas industry.

On goals vs. reality

There is a tremendous disconnect between administration rhetoric and what’s actually possible. This is not just Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s administration, this is President (Joe) Biden’s administration, this is other states.

For example, getting to the goal of 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind by, now, 2035, is a gargantuan task. The big 13-megawatt GE generators that likely are going to be used for Ocean Wind I, you would essentially have to put one in the ocean every five days from now until 2035 to reach 11,000 megawatts’ generation. And you would have to have started doing that back in January. That’s just not actually possible.

On timelines 

There’s too much governance by press release and less, ‘Let’s get to the practical realities of this and let’s get right.’ We’ve gotten five years with this administration and four years under the Energy Master Plan, and, in that time, we haven’t installed an offshore wind turbine yet. Yes, that’s complicated, but we haven’t installed one. The state had planned to do massive amounts of solar … we haven’t installed any solar. The Energy Master Plan’s goals for battery storage … we haven’t added any battery storage. 

On transmission lines

The real complication of renewable sources, like the infrastructure problems you have with water, is most people don’t see it. It’s out of sight, out of mind. Regardless of generation source — nuclear, natural gas, coal, oil, wind, solar, hamster on giant wheel — the issue of getting to the grid is the same — your transmission cable comes from your generation source, goes into a substation, which lowers the power out to your distribution lines. 

We need to get an understanding of that. If you want to take the stress off the grid, you need to build more of everything. You need more transmission lines, because, if one goes down, you need another one to move the high-voltage power.

Since we essentially invented electricity generation, our entire grid on a national scale has been built to have power run through those grids 100% of the time — because, when you operate nuclear, natural gas, coal, oil, hydroelectric, those lines are fully powered at all times. Your winds, your solar, those are intermittent.

The grid is not set up yet to have different times where there’s a lot of power running through it, and then no power running through it. That’s how you end up in situations where you have critical infrastructure that fails. That’s where some of these substations could fail. 

On electric vehicle sales goals

The most recent data (the end of Q3 in 2022) shows we have sold 78,000 electric vehicles in New Jersey. So, based on the executive orders and the targets that are happening, that would mean that between now and 2035, over the next 12 years, we have to add another 250,000 electric vehicles. Now, historical sales patterns show us that we’re just not going to get there. Now, could there be some major tax incentives that get people to go buy EVs? Maybe that’s possible, maybe that’s possible. But, if we’re not going to mandate it, which the governor claims that we’re not going to do, then I just I don’t see a behavioral incentive for people to go and buy that many now. 

On the lack of cost transparency

It’s been five years, and nobody can tell anyone what the cost of any of this is going to be. The Board of Public Utilities has released an Energy Master Plan, an update to the Energy Master Plan, and, now, we’re rewriting an Energy Master Plan, yet, we can’t tell anyone in the state of New Jersey what it’s going to cost. How is that even possible? Do you buy a house not knowing the cost? The logic is baffling.

On Jersey’s (lack of) global impact

I’m not dismissing it, but what I am saying is that (we need) to have an actual conversation about what’s happening in China and what’s happening in India (where emissions are rising). New Jersey’s emissions are 0.3% of the entire amount of global emissions. So, if we shut everything off tomorrow, we’re not going to have a singular impact of that other than wrecking our economy and making sure that our lights don’t turn on. We need to have a real discussion about that.

Editor’s note: Since few people speak in grammatically correct sentences, we edited their responses for readability purposes.