BPU pulls decarbonization proposal from agenda — but big questions remain

Will proposal appear on agenda for next meeting (Aug. 16)? — and does BPU have authority to pass such a proposal?

A contentious and controversial proposal that seemingly directs electric utilities to begin to decarbonize the building sector was pulled Wednesday by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities from the agenda of the board’s only meeting in July.

The questions around the proposal, however, remain.

The two biggest:

  • When will the proposal go for a vote (the next meeting of the BPU is Aug. 16)?
  • Does the BPU even have the authority to pass such a proposal?

Senate Republican Leader Anthony Bucco (R-Denville) praised the decision to pull the proposal, saying it was pulled after legislators, the Division of Rate Counsel and other stakeholders expressed serious concerns about the rushed effort to implement the draft proposal that could be a massive overreach of the agency’s authority.

“The BPU thought it could rush the approval of a major energy policy change that could ultimately cost New Jersey home and business owners hundreds of billions of dollars to implement,” Bucco said.

Whether the BPU has that ability also is unclear.

“There also are serious concerns that the BPU doesn’t have the legal authority to set environmental policy for the state or to regulate carbon emissions, which is their clear intention,” Bucco said. “Thankfully, the agency backed down after we shed light on what they were trying to do.”

Eric DeGesero, representing the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey and New Jersey Propane Gas Association, said he feels the BPU does not have such authority — and that such authority rests only in the Legislature.

“Unless the Legislature meets on an emergency basis, the governor’s got the same legal deficiency in the future as has today — meaning the BPU can pass it, but, without legislative authority, it can’t go into effect,” he said. “That’s high school civics.

“The Legislature could pass this tomorrow and send it to the governor and that would be fine. But delaying this decision doesn’t change the fact that there’s no legal authority for the BPU to do this.”

Michael Maloney, president of the New Jersey State Association of Pipe Trades, agreed.

“We also agree that BPU’s authority doesn’t extend to the regulation of CO2 emissions and the draft proposal contravenes state law,” he said.

A BPU spokesperson did not comment on the legality of the action — or when the proposal may come up for discussion. The BPU did say that the next scheduled meeting is Aug. 16.

Bucco said he will keep an eye out for the next agenda.

“The BPU said the building decarbonization plan will be on a future agenda for approval, so we need to remain vigilant,” he said.

Bucco won’t be the only one.

Maloney said his group is firmly opposed, saying the idea of banning gas stoves and mandating electric heat for all Garden State homes, buildings and businesses would have a huge impact.

“As we’ve said before in our opposition to the governor’s Energy Master Plan, electric heat pumps do not provide enough warmth when it’s cold outside, which will require electric resistance heat as a backup — on top of the exorbitant cost and effort to retrofit homes and other buildings. Additionally, we have concerns that the Murphy administration’s broad electrification mandate will put a tremendous strain on our fragile energy grid,” he said.

Then there’s the cost, Maloney said.

“We share in concerns expressed by the director of the Division of Rate Counsel, Brian Lipman, who states the plan will undoubtedly cost New Jerseyans far more than the $150 million proposed by the BPU,” he said.