New Jersey legislators are poised to set the state on a path to becoming one of the nation’s cleanest-energy states. After eight years of Gov. Chris Christie’s pandering to the fossil fuel industry, putting the kibosh on efforts to cut carbon pollution, and then attempting a misguided, last-minute bailout of the state’s struggling nuclear plants, New Jersey will now focus substantial attention on energy efficiency, solar, and wind power.
Under Gov. Murphy, lawmakers are considering a measure that would catapult the Garden State to the front of the pack when it comes to support for clean energy. It would deliver a rare trifecta of benefits: creating jobs, boosting an innovative sector of the economy, and curtailing pollution.
Backed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the bill would establish a 50 percent standard for clean solar and wind energy by 2030, one of the most ambitious in the nation, and one that will put the state on track to procure all of its power from clean sources by 2050. It creates a program for community solar deployment so residents of apartments or condos can also share in the rewards of generating electricity from the sun, with no fuel costs.
It will also save electricity customers an estimated $200 million a year by dramatically scaling up the state’s energy efficiency investments. That measure would boost local companies that install insulation, windows, smart meters, advanced heating and air-conditioning systems, and other technologies, bringing more than 100,000 people into the efficiency industry. By saving energy, the state will also cut its carbon pollution, achieving savings equivalent to taking 75,000 cars off the road each year.
While the clean-energy legislation is paired with a bill that would aid the state’s struggling nuclear plants, the controversy over that measure shouldn’t distract lawmakers and citizens from the important strides state leaders are making by charting this new course for clean energy. The adoption of energy efficiency improvements and transition to more solar and wind will pay dividends in the state for decades to come.
This is a critical opportunity for leaders in Trenton to show naysayers in Washington that economic prosperity and a healthy environment go hand in hand, and that in the 21st century a thriving economy is built on clean energy, not fossil fuels.
While the Trump administration is busily trying to prop up the dirtiest forms of energy and characterizing every measure to protect our health or environment as a job-killing energy tax, New Jersey is charting a course that cleans up the air while creating tens of thousands of jobs and keeping millions of dollars in the local economy instead of sending them out of state to import fuel.
Driving investment in clean and efficient energy in the state makes sense for our economy, our air quality and climate, and our children and grandchildren. As they debate these measures over the coming days, state lawmakers should focus first and foremost on that.
Dale Bryk is a senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council and has been involved in advocating on behalf of clean energy in New Jersey.