Barb Blumenthal, research director at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, didn’t try to skirt the issue of the Energy Master Plan during the recent webinar: “The Energy Transition: An ROI-NJ discussion on flexible energy systems powering the future.”
“The Energy Master Plan is clearly out of date, because the transition is happening much more quickly on many different fronts than was anticipated,” Blumental told the audience.
She also said that was OK — and expected.
“The Energy Master Plan, which was developed four years ago, always anticipated that we should redo the analysis that underlies it, particularly the electric grid portion of it, every three to four years,” she said. “So, we’re overdue for taking a fresh look at all of the options: What’s the mix of resources, what are the low-cost pathways to get us to 100% clean electricity?”
Blumenthal said she expects the Energy Master Plan will be revised in the coming year, but she does not expect the three main focuses — the electric grid, transportation and decarbonization of buildings — to change.
“Those are going to remain the three big topics,” she said. “And we’ll have new analysis, primarily around what’s the mix of resources — and what’s the cost look like now for 100% clean electricity.”
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That’s the big focus for Eric DeGesero, president of Edge Consulting and executive vice president of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey.
DeGesero is not against clean energy, a clean energy transition — even a new Energy Master Plan, as long as it includes more transparency on the costs.
He points to the recent pullback from Ørsted, which announced it is not going through with two offshore wind projects that were a key part of the state’s clean energy transition.
“I think the big thing that’s changed is that 2,200 megawatts of offshore wind that was going to happen a month ago isn’t happening now,” he said. “There’s a question of how that’s going to be back-filled.”
And paid for.
DeGesero said funding for many initiatives does not seem to be there.
“When money isn’t free any longer, you’ve seen some of these projects become a lot less attractive,” he said.
DeGesero points to a reluctance of the federal government to fund everything.
“The governor led a delegation of Northeast governors a few months ago, asking President (Joe) Biden for more money to help back-fill this — I think in anticipation of the Ørsted announcement — and the president didn’t come through,” he said. “So, you’re looking at the cost really coming home to roost. There’s a bill says that we’re going to appropriate $300 million to protect the ratepayers from this cost. The problem is, that $300 million is coming from the taxpayers.
“So, whether you’re wearing your ratepayer hat or your taxpayer hat, there needs to be far more analysis of what this is going to cost before we do it, as opposed to doing it and figuring out the cost as we go along.”
Blumenthal, without directly discussing infrastructure costs to get to a cleaner energy future, said the actual cost of energy will be reduced in the future. That’s the beauty of the Energy Master Plan, she said.
“The question in the Energy Master Plan, and the analysis that underlies it, is: If you start swapping out more clean resources and retiring or reducing the amount of fossil fuel generation over time, between now and 2050, what happens to the electric grid? Can it remain reliable?” she asked, and then answered.
“The studies actually simulate the actual process of decarbonizing the electric grid over 30 years, and it fundamentally answers the question: Will the lights stay on? And the answer is yes, with the right mix of resources.
“The second question is, of all the ways of doing that, what does it cost? That analysis, four years ago, found that you could decarbonize, and we would be paying less for energy in 2050, as a percentage of GDP, than we do today. So, it’s not expensive, it’s doable, it’s affordable.”