Clean energy goals: There are many ways for utilities to reach them

Rich Henning.

New Jersey’s utilities strongly embrace a multipronged strategy to reach the state’s decarbonization goals, as government and business must partner in many ways to drastically reduce greenhouse gases and achieve the clean energy future that we all want.

We wholeheartedly concur with Gov. Phil Murphy’s statement in Executive Order 315 that “New Jersey must pursue an equitable and smooth transition to clean and renewable energy sources while building a stronger and fairer economy.”

We also agree that evolving from a fossil-fuel based economy will require significant time and investment. Our member utilities are now leveraging the existing $17 billion in gas infrastructure to meet long-term emissions goals, ensure reliability, minimize cost and prioritize customer choice across New Jersey.

Utilities are detailing many steps taken so far to decarbonize the energy used in the Garden State and stand ready to increase their investment quickly and significantly. Reaching our common goal of a sustainable planet requires taking decisive, science-based action.

It also requires sensible carbon-reduction and pollution-mitigation steps that consider the appropriate planning for, and investment in, New Jersey’s vast energy infrastructure, its competing business interests, densely packed population in older buildings and its strategic location in the energy transmission network.

Most importantly, we must consider the direct impact that this transition will have on the millions of New Jerseyans our members serve. This transition is being planned with consideration to reliability, safety and affordability, while ensuring an adequate amount of generation resources.

Let’s get specific on next steps:

Supporting all clean-energy sources

  • While replacing fossil fuels, it is critical that we preserve New Jersey’s nuclear facilities that provide reliable, carbon-free energy, expand renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower) and add clean hydrogen and renewable natural gas/biogas;
  • All of this source diversification includes carbon capture and storage, reuse of existing pipelines for carbon removal and clean-fuel transport and repurposing existing waste sources to produce RNG;
  • To facilitate a clean energy future, the federal government is providing tax credits, which utilities are ready to pass on to customers as savings, as opposed to being leveraged by nonutility participants who would use such valuable credits to fatten their bottom line.

Viable options

  • Energy Efficiency: Utilities have been working collaboratively with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to make energy efficiency more accessible to everyone in the state. The effort includes guidance for customers, comprehensive upgrades to systems and special incentives for low- and moderate-income customers. Lowering demand for energy will make the other clean energy goals more affordable for all. The roll-out of electric heat pumps also play an important role.
  • Methane/biogas for RNG: Decarbonization is already being used to reduce emissions; state environmental officials believe that up to 150 million cubic meters of biogas could be produced annually. This is a low-carbon fuel that recycles and repurposes methane emissions to displace fossil-sourced natural gas, making it a carbon-neutral energy source. Landfills — the third largest human-generated source of methane in the United States — are a natural target for biogas harvesting. In New Jersey, 11 of the 12 operational landfills already use methane gas captured as a source of power, electricity, heat, or to produce renewable natural gas.
  • Clean hydrogen: Achieving commercial-scale hydrogen deployment is critical to building a strong clean energy economy while enabling decarbonization. Estimates indicate that America’s growing hydrogen economy could add 100,000 jobs by 2030. Clean hydrogen is key to New Jersey’s clean energy future, a core federal strategy to achieve 2050 climate goals. New Jersey’s utilities support Murphy’s vision for New Jersey to become a “Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub,” as part of 40 clean hydrogen ecosystem partners, taking advantage of our road and rail transportation corridor, ports and strategic position between New York and Philadelphia. New Jersey has one of the most natural gas pipeline-connected populations in the Northeast, many natural gas-fired electric generation facilities and remains poised to becoming a national leader in renewable offshore wind energy.
  • Carbon capture: With strong industry engagement, government support and innovative supply chain solutions, carbon capture can deliver a competitive solution for achieving net-zero targets. It has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and is a practical way to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed by 2050.
  • Modernization: Projects are already underway involving RNG and hydrogen into the gas distribution system. In the New Jersey Natural Gas and South Jersey Gas service territories, for example, all cast iron and unprotected steel pipe has been replaced. Public Service Electric & Gas is delivering this transformation now. This significant investment has yielded immediate environmental benefits through leak reduction. The modern platform is ready to deliver cleaner fuels, including RNG and clean hydrogen.

The transition from a fossil-fuel based economy — almost three-fourths of New Jerseyans use natural gas for their primary heating source and nearly half of the state’s electricity comes from natural gas sources — will take collaboration, time and significant resources.

There is no singular path forward to achieve emissions reduction targets. But through legislative, regulatory and financial efforts — with New Jersey’s utilities taking the lead — clean energy goals will ultimately be met throughout the state.

Richard Henning is the CEO of the New Jersey Utilities Association.