“Carbon Neutral” is Not Good Enough in Energy Master Plan

Jeff Tittel, Senior Chapter Director, NJ Sierra Club

(Reprinted from App.com with the author’s permission.)

The climate crisis is here and already impacting New Jersey. Greenhouse gas emissions globally set an all-time high last year. Our oceans are warming 40 percent faster than previously believed. The IPCC has given us 12 years before the worst climate impacts will become irreversible.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s state Board of Public Utilities recently released its Draft Energy Master Plan dealing with many issues affecting climate change and green energy. There is a growing sense of urgency to do more in combating climate impacts, but the EMP does not address natural gas.

There are things to like in the draft EMP, especially in electrifying the transportation sector and dealing with home heating. There is also a lot that’s missing, including any mention of a moratorium on fossil fuel projects.

What’s really troubling is the plan redefines clean energy as carbon neutral. This is a cynical move with major consequences. Clean energy is usually defined as wind, solar, energy efficiency, hydro and geo-thermal. Carbon neutral, by contrast, means that carbon will still be released. The definition includes natural gas, fossil fuel plants with carbon sequestration, nuclear power plants, incinerators, biomass, carbon credits and offsets. Redefining clean energy as carbon neutral will include a lot of dirty fuels. This is an Orwellian approach that sells out renewable energy by promoting natural gas and nuclear power.

The only reference to renewable energy in the draft EMP calls for 50% renewable by 2030. There’s no mention of raising that percentage higher beyond that. That means the other 50 percent of our energy can come from dirtier carbon neutral sources like natural gas and nuclear. The plan doesn’t mention the nuclear subsidy, which locks us into buying 32% of our energy from nuclear from now on. That will require nuclear plants stay open after their licenses have expired. The nuclear subsidy will also continue taking money away from wind and solar.

The draft EMP doesn’t call for a moratorium on fossil-fuel pipelines and power plants. The call for 100% Clean Energy only applies to power sold in the state. That means power plants shipping power out of state could still be built. The Meadowlands power plant can be built and ship its power to New York. CPV Woodbridge and Sewaren 7 can operate and send power to Long Island. There’s also nothing in the EMP about closing the state’s two remaining coal-powered plants. These power plants, plus the changing definition of clean energy to carbon neutral, means we will increase greenhouse gases and not reach our 100% renewable energy goals.

Murphy’s plan reinforces the need for a moratorium on all fossil-fuel projects. Permits for the NESE pipeline were rejected, but they’ve just reapplied for the permits. The PennEast pipeline has been delayed, but continues to move forward. The Murphy administration has approved all of the permits for three pipelines and three power plants, plus some of the permits for other pipelines and power plants. They’ve also approved an LNG port in Gibbstown. NJ Transit wants another power plant in the Meadowlands. If the eight proposed pipelines and five proposed power plants are built, New Jersey’s greenhouse gases would increase 32%. The draft EMP shows us the administration wants the state to continue relying on dirty fuels.

One of the major positives in the EMP is for the first time emphasizing energy efficiency in homes and businesses and electrifying the transportation sector. We don’t just need a plan. We need to get regulations in place to move us forward. The plan sets goals for 330,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2025 and building a statewide EV charging infrastructure.

The EMP lays out goals for cutting vehicle miles traveled and reducing port and airport emissions. It also calls for increasing clean transportation options in low- and moderate- income and environmental justice communities. However by defining clean energy as carbon neutral, the plan promotes the continued operation of polluting incinerators, all of which are located in environmental justices communities in New Jersey. There’s also no mention of fixing the solar program, which will soon collapse unless the cost cap is eliminated.

The draft EMP is an outline, and it’s the public’s job to fill in the gaps and make sure clean energy remains 100% clean. We need to make sure the Murphy administration doesn’t get away with changing the definition of clean energy and steering us away from 100% renewable energy. New Jersey was once a leader in clean energy. We need to develop bold initiatives to catch up to states like California, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts and others that have done far more to combat climate change.

The governor says he doesn’t call balls and strikes on pipelines and power plants, but he just handed the game to the gas and nuclear industry.  The public must turn out for stakeholder meetings to make sure we get to 100% renewable and zero carbon. BPU will host public meetings on the draft EMP on July 17 in Trenton (Statehouse), Aug. 8 in Newark (Seton Hall) and Sept. 12 in Camden (Kroc Center). We must continue calling for a moratorium on all fossil-fuel projects. We cannot be carbon neutral. Our climate and our environment depend on it.

Note: Possible Planet (sponsor of this site) is a member of EmpowerNJ and a signatory to the call for a fossil fuel infrastructure moratorium in New Jersey.


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