Friday, December 9, 2016

If clean energy is left to the states, will NJ lead or lag?

Donald Trump has named Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA 
President-elect Donald Trump's selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be nation's next EPA administrator is a dark day for clean energy and the environment.

Pruitt is a climate denier and a leader in a multi-state legal action to overturn President Obama's Clean Power Plan.

His selection, however, should be no surprise. Trump clearly promised throughout his campaign to dismantle the EPA, to weaken regulations, to favor the coal and oil industries, and to pull the country out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Some thought it was all just campaign rhetoric. The fact that Mr. Pruitt has been given the job of setting and enforcing the nation's environmental agenda should end all hopeful thinking. It is more than sobering. It's disturbing.

R. William Potter
Princeton energy and environment attorney R. William Potter says it now will be up to so-inclined states to continue to implement clean-energy policies and fight the alarming prospects of climate change.

A recent vote at the state's Board of Public Utilities makes Potter question whether New Jersey is up to the challenge.

He writes in NJ Spotlight:

On November 30, the Board of Public Utilities voted by the narrowest of margins (3-2) to approve the stripped-down plan by Public Service Electric & Gas, one of the “greenest” of electric utilities in the nation, to expend $80 million to develop a mere 33 megawatts of solar electric facilities on former garbage dumps and brownfields.
As the plan was originally filed, PSE&G called for spending $276 million to build 100 megawatts of brownfields electric capacity, essentially solar farms covering abandoned industrial sites and closed landfills.
But heated opposition led by a coalition of industrial energy users helped to reduce the PSE&G plan by nearly two-thirds, as set forth in a lengthy stipulation approved by the BPU.

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Opponents of the PSE&G initiative asserted that the cost to ratepayers of the so-called solar subsidy was becoming excessive, even though financing the program comes to a nearly invisible 4 cents a year before maxing out at 24 cents annually.
That’s right: Two cents per month for the average residential user to keep the state moving on track to advance solar projects and jobs, and to put formerly polluting landfills and industrial sites to “socially beneficial use,” as BPU President Richard Mroz wisely pointed out.
This wringing of hands over feared impacts of the PSE&G program included opposition to the utility’s plan to “rate base” its cost. This would allow PSE&G to profit from the undertaking with costs embedded in consumer rates, which is how almost all of the region’s large power plants were financed and built.
Those objecting to the plan included two BPU commissioners who argued that PSE&G should have used an unregulated affiliate competing in the solar marketplace, not the regulated utility, even though recent legislation expressly authorizes the rate-base approach to spur utilities to invest more of their “patient capital” in renewable energy projects.
Those objections, however sincere, miss the point:
President-elect Trump campaigned on a promise to unshackle the coal and oil industry and to reject the Paris Climate Accord signed by some 200 nations. His appointment of Pruitt to head if not to dismantle the EPA dashes whatever hope was briefly raised by Trump’s 90-minute meeting with Al Gore.
The states must step into the leadership vacuum in battling global warming, perhaps our last hope for achieving meaningful limits on greenhouse gases despite Trump’s retrograde policies and regulatory appointments.
So instead of pushing against PSE&G’s latest solar initiative, BPU regulators and consumer protectors alike should call for still more solar development by whatever legitimate means, until literally every available rooftop and brownfield is covered in solar panels and offshore wind turbines to distract and delight vacationers at the Jersey Shore.
Read the full column here

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