Scutari, Coughlin preach patience on way to achieving energy goals

Legislative leaders say measured approach that embraces existing technologies – along with realistic goals and timelines around new initiatives – is balance state needs to meet

The state Legislature agrees with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration on the desire to advance numerous clean energy initiatives in the state, but not at the detriment to the business community and the energy sector — and not in a rush.

So said Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Clark) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) on Wednesday, the first day of the annual New Jersey Utilities Association conference in Long Branch.

The leaders said the state is wise to explore all clean energy options — naming offshore wind, solar and nuclear, among others — but both said their development should not come at the expense of what the state already has established.

“When it comes to energy needs in New Jersey, we’re not just going to throw out everything we’ve known for hundreds of years,” Scutari said, noting the billions of dollars in infrastructure already invested in the state.

Leading by example with new technologies is a goal, Scutari said, but a measured one.

“We’re not going to destroy the economy just to do that,” he said.

The biggest reason: The Legislature has the benefit of a longer runway, both leaders said.

While the Murphy administration is eager to quickly set plans and policies before it is term-limited out of office in less than two years, Coughlin and Scutari told the crowd of more than 100 industry leaders that the Legislature has the benefit of time — and ability to balance idealism with realism.

“We need to take a practical approach,” Coughlin said. “The goals and plans are just that — goals and plans. They set a pathway for achieving what it is that we ultimately want to achieve. But, like most things in life, there’s not going to be a direct path to all these things.”

Coughlin said the obvious: Global warming is having a huge impact and there are steps that must be taken — but not at the expense of the ability to heat or cool or get from place to place.

“(We need to) make sure that we work together, understanding what the technology is as it evolves over the course of time, being prepared to invest in those things that will help us get to that point along the way, and being flexible enough to understand how we go about putting those things in place,” he said. “Sometimes it means we need to give tax breaks, sometimes it means we need to enforce rules and regulations, but it is really that combination of things and a recognition of the compelling needs that we have.”

While both Scutari and Coughlin threw their support behind wind energy, they reiterated that sometimes what is old can be new, as both made the case for more nuclear, including small modular reactors.

“I think nuclear energy is a proven source of energy — has been a proven source of energy,” Scutari said. “I know that people have whatever feelings they have about it, but that is a proven technology that still works and is not dependent on whether the wind blows or not.

“It’s science and it works with produces a measurable amount of energy.”

Scutari said natural gas shouldn’t be dismissed either — saying it was considered a “clean energy” source not too long ago.

Simple math says natural gas — and its millions of miles of pipeline — has to be part of the energy plan moving forward, he said.

“There’s not enough electricity to go around in order to electrify all the things that government’s already saying we should have electrified,” he said.

It’s matching realism with idealism along the way to a 100% green energy future, Scutari said.

Of course, nothing is more real than solving the money problem, Coughlin said.

“I think one of the challenges we face during budget time is, where do we invest our money?” he asked.

Coughlin said he approaches it this way: “Recognizing what the goals are, setting realistic, achievable measures to get there, and then be flexible enough to (adjust).”