BPU’s Guhl-Sadovy: On opportunities (and challenges) the need for more energy brings

President details desire to have more clean energy options – and trying to manage costs that come with it

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Christine Guhl-Sadovy detailed numerous examples of the teamwork she has seen in her first months on the job — working with utilities on affordability problems, working with other state agencies and municipalities on solar projects, working with companies on finding the right locations for data centers and working with national organizations on grid modernization.

It’s all necessary, she said, because of one simple fact: We need more energy in the state.

Guhl-Sadovy, a keynote speaker at the annual New Jersey Utilities Association convention that started Wednesday in Long Branch, said working together to find solutions has been a key since she unexpectedly assumed the role last fall, following the passing of longtime leader Joe Fiordaliso.

The challenge to find more sources of energy creates an opportunity to develop and implement more clean energy initiatives, she said.

“There’s no reason why it should not be clean energy, if we’re going to be bringing more energy online,” she said.

The room of industry leaders understands the challenge that comes with that idea: cost.

Those financial considerations are not lost on Guhl-Sadovy.

“We have some of the boldest goals around clean energy in the country because we have a bold governor who wants to make sure that we’re taking action on climate change,” she said. “But, when we think about the cost of investing in clean energy, we have to think about the cost of not doing that.

“We are seeing now direct utility costs associated with stronger storms — not hurricanes, not major tropical storms, just stronger storms — (leading to) more outages and more infrastructure investments that are necessary just to address the impacts that we are seeing now, not to mention what we’re going to see down the line.”

It’s a pay-me-now or pay-me-later scenario, Guhl-Sadovy said.

“When we think about making investments in clean energy, in offshore wind and in grid modernization and infrastructure improvements, we have to think about the cost balance of not doing that — and there is a cost,” she said.

“I’m not even talking about health care costs, and beach replenishment and erosion and all of those issues. I’m just talking about the associated costs for utility infrastructure to address the stronger storms. There are major costs associated with those things.”

Guhl-Sadovy addressed a number of issues during a 30-minute one-on-one discussion. Here are some of the highlights:

  • On the challenges of moving from being a BPU commissioner to the BPU president: “One of the most significant differences is being responsible for the staffing of the agency and making sure that the resources are available to do all the work that we’re doing.” (She also noted having to be the face of the franchise, making numerous public appearances, including testifying before the Budget Committee.)
  • On equity and affordability: “Gov. (Phil) Murphy cares very deeply about equity and affordability. As we look at our infrastructure investments, our clean energy goals and all of our programs, those things are always top of mind for me.” (She talked about refunding money through bill credits, rather than an application process — and noted the state has brought in a consultant to find more avenues for saving, comparing New Jersey programs to those of other states.)
  • On nuclear as a clean-energy option: “I want to be clear, particularly in this room, that the goal is 100% clean (energy). We want to do it at the lowest cost possible to New Jersey ratepayers, we want to take advantage of economic development opportunities, but we are not trying to keep out any clean resources. We rely very heavily in the state on nuclear — it’s roughly 40% of our generation — that’s a critically important part of our clean energy resources.”
  • On offshore wind: “As we look at the broader possibilities, obviously we focus a lot on offshore wind. We are advancing the fifth solicitation, we are in the current fourth solicitation and we just made an award a few months ago for our third solicitation. … We’re here in Monmouth County, we’re on the coast, we see sea-level-rise issues, we see major erosion issues — a lot of money is going into making sure that we’re replenishing the beaches. So, we need to do our part to mitigate the effects of climate change. And offshore wind and solar are a big part of that. (She noted the recent capping of a landfill in Berkeley Township with solar panels, one of many such projects in the state.)
  • On economic benefits of clean energy: “I think offshore wind is not just about climate change. There’s a significant economic development component, particularly for South Jersey and the wind port in Paulsboro.”
  • On modernizing the grid: “The grid that we have was not built in five years. So, when we think about the future of bringing additional load online, we’re not going to be able to transform the grid overnight. It’s a long-term process. We’re looking at new efficiencies and hosting capacity and making sure that when projects want to come online, they are able to interconnect — and they’re able to get some certainty about what the costs of the projects are going to be long term, because that’s really important for developers. This is not a New Jersey-specific problem. It’s not just a regional problem. It’s not a national problem. It’s actually a global problem. It is something that countries around the world are looking at: How do they bring renewable energy online?”
  • On data centers, which use a tremendous amount of energy: “There are a lot of proposals out there for how we’re going to interconnect data centers — the smaller ones have the distribution issues, and the larger ones are looking at transmission issues. I think we have to do this in a way that is that as coordinated around all of our goals, not just our energy goals. We’re working with the EPA; we’re looking at how we make sure that there’s available capacity throughout the utility service territories and we’re talking with data center developers. We want them to be creative in looking for solutions. And we want to make sure that they are looking at the available resources when it comes to power and not just the available geography, putting in a data center in a certain location. There are going to be preferred locations for power capacity and getting onto the grid that’s going to make it a little bit faster for those data centers.”
  • On misinformation, particularly around offshore wind and whales: “There is no evidence to support the claim that offshore wind is killing whales. I care very deeply about marine life. The greatest threat to marine life is climate change. So, if we really want to do something to protect marine life, we should be addressing climate change.”
  • And, finally, on the messaging around the push toward electrification: “It’s about meeting our goals in a way that’s cost effective. And it’s about making those resources available for people when they want to switch. … When you’re looking at a new heating and air conditioning system because your heating broke, let’s make sure you’re looking at a heat pump. When your stove breaks, let’s make sure that you’re looking at an induction stove. When your gas dryer breaks, let’s make sure that you’re looking at electric. There are no mandates to force people to get rid of their gas stove.” (She pledged to replace her own gas stove, when the time comes that it is needed to be replaced.)