During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers in the Garden State grappled with what to do about climate change. With a new Democratic governor and Democratic control of the legislature, there was general agreement that energy subsidies were the path forward. What emerged for Governor Phil Murphy’s signature were bills that increased the government’s renewable energy mandate and provided subsidies for nuclear power.
The first bill dealt with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates that a set percentage of electricity in the state must be generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind. The bill that Governor Murphy signed into law would set one the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation. Previously, New Jersey’s renewable energy mandate was 24.5% by 2020. Under the new bill, this would be dramatically increased. The legislation would require the following:
- A 35% renewable energy goal by 2025
- A 50% renewable energy goal by 2050
- An increase in both offshore wind and solar usage
- More usage of utility net metering
Since renewable energy sources generally cost more than other sources of electricity, this mandate will likely lead to an increase in energy prices paid by New Jersey consumers.
These consumers will also be paying higher prices due to the other piece of energy legislation, a bill that gives subsidies to the state’s nuclear power plants. The operating costs of these plants make it difficult for them to compete with lower-cost energy sources, especially natural gas. Because they were losing money, the plants owners said that they would shut them down unless they received state aid. Legislators and the governor agreed, providing them with $300 million in yearly subsidies.
Supporters of these bills say they are necessary to help the state achieve its goal of achieving an 80 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. They point out that nuclear power plants generate 40% of the state’s power without producing any carbon. If these plants shut down, they say, there would be no way for the state to lower its carbon emissions. The nuclear subsidies, as well as the state support for renewable energy, will put New Jersey on the path to a lower-carbon future, according to advocates.
Opponents of the bills note that New Jersey ratepayers will be facing higher bills under this legislation. They contend that the nuclear subsidies are simply corporate welfare for well-connected energy companies. They also say that the renewable energy targets are unrealistic, considering the very small amount of energy that can currently be produced using wind or solar.
Governor Murphy and legislators have laid out an ambitious plan for carbon-free energy in New Jersey. It remains to be seen whether the state’s government support for these energy sources will allow the state to meet its ambitious environmental goals.
Do you think that electricity consumers should pay more to subsidize nuclear power plants and renewable energy? Or are subsidies for these carbon-free energy sources necessary to address climate change?