Diversifying energy supply and reducing dependence on imported fuels via alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and more can prove to be beneficial. These types of energy sources don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, can reduce air pollution, and also create economic development and jobs in manufacturing, installation and more.
Gov. Phil Murphy has made it clear that he wants New Jersey to be at the forefront of the clean energy industry, and has gone as far as to sign an executive order directing the development of an updated Energy Master Plan (EMP), which sets the lofty goal of having the state run on 100% clean energy by 2050.
According to NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Ray Cantor, “The administration wants to set even higher standards for clean energy initiatives, and in that sense, the current draft of the EMP is truly aspirational. However, New Jersey needs an energy master plan that is both affordable and feasible.”
Cantor cautions that the total cost of such a feat – which includes a full conversion of the state’s electric generation sector to clean energy and replacing natural gas, which heats more than 75% of the state’s homes and businesses – still needs to be considered.
What follows is a report on what is happening in the state’s renewable energy sector, a sector that should be part of New Jersey’s overall energy mix.
In June, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) selected Ocean Wind, an offshore wind energy project, proposed by the Danish energy company Ørsted with support from PSEG, to develop a 1,100 MW offshore wind farm 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. Construction on what will be the largest wind farm in the United States will begin in the early 2020s, with the project being operational in 2024. Ocean Wind is expected to create more than 3,000 direct jobs annually through development and its three-year construction cycle.
1,100 MW in a single project is significant, and Kris Ohleth, senior manager of stakeholder engagement at Ørsted, says that Ocean Wind will power more than 500,000 homes in New Jersey with clean energy.
“You are looking at a significant contribution to clean energy in the state,” she adds, pointing out that there are approximately 3 million total households in New Jersey.
Technological advancements allowing for physically larger turbines (each blade on Ocean Wind’s turbines is 351 feet long) have been one of the biggest factors in affording offshore wind the ability to be a significant supplier of energy to large populations.
“The biggest change that has affected the scale and productivity of our wind farms is the physical size of the wind turbines. [Ørsted] built the first offshore wind farm in the world in 1991 in Denmark, and that entire project was 6 MW. That project generated as much energy in 25 years of operations as one of our new turbines will generate in 17 days,” Ohleth says.
The offshore wind industry will also bring with it significant investment in the state, one example being Ørsted’s Pro-NJ Trust fund in Cape May and Atlantic counties. The company will invest up to $15 million in grants to support local infrastructure investments and to support small, women- and minority-owned business owners who wish to become part of the emerging offshore wind industry. Ørsted is also proceeding with plans to establish an operation and maintenance base in Atlantic City that will provide permanent, high-skilled jobs during the more than 25 year lifespan of the project.
In October, the BPU announced that New Jersey had surpassed 3 gigawatts of solar power statewide. In the past decade, the state’s solar program has grown significantly from about 4,900 installations in 2009 to 116,000 installations today.
“When it comes to solar installations, New Jersey is rivaling sun-drenched states like Nevada, Arizona and Florida – that says a lot about our state’s enthusiasm for this increasingly affordable, renewable energy source,” says BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, New Jersey was the nation’s sixth-largest producer of electricity from large- and small-scale solar powered system facilities in 2018, and about 75% of the state’s renewable electricity generation came from solar power.
The rapid growth of solar popularity in the state is fitting, as the first practical solar cell was actually invented in New Jersey by Bell Labs in 1954.
“In the mid-1970s, a solar panel cost $80 per watt of capacity. Today, it costs less than $0.30 per watt,” says Lyle K. Rawlings, P.E., president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar & Storage Industries Association, and president & CEO of Flemington-based Advanced Solar Products. He says that the combination of technological advancements and increase in manufacturing volume have led to the drastic decrease in price, coupled with an increase in efficiency.
There have been efforts by the state to increase access to solar power, evidenced by the launch of the BPU’s three-year community solar energy pilot program. The program aims to afford low and moderate income households with an opportunity to participate in the solar market through projects located within their electric public utility’s distribution territory. The program received 252 applications in its first year, and is estimated to cover the electricity usage of approximately 45,000 residential homes.
While the state is in the midst of determining how to fund new solar projects in the future, Rawlings cautions that a current proposal from the BPU for distributing incentives over-incentivizes certain market sectors of the solar industry, while under-incentivizing others. Those being under-incentivized, according to Rawlings, are the residential and ground-mounted solar systems, such as those built by schools, municipalities and corporations.
“It’s about getting the numbers right,” Rawlings says. “These sectors are among the most active and most intensive job creators in the industry. The residential market sector – in particular – is important because that is where the homeowners, who are paying for a lot of these incentives, have a chance to get some of it back in the form of discounted power. It is also the sector that creates the most jobs.”
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