New Jersey will depend less on solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy sources than originally proposed as Governor Christie approved a plan Tuesday that calls for increased reliance on natural gas and nuclear energy.
The final energy master plan calls for 22.4 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, down from 30 percent under a 2008 plan by former Gov. Jon Corzine. But Christie said he still supports incentives to increase the amount of energy supplied by solar over the next three years.
Christie wants 70 percent of the state's electric use to come from "clean" sources by 2050 and has said that category has to include nuclear, natural gas and hydroelectric facilities.
Environmental advocates said none are clean energy sources.
"I don't think there is anything clean about radioactive waste," said Matt Elliot, of the advocacy group Environment New Jersey.
"And when you look at natural gas, it's not that much cleaner than coal with drilling and building pipelines through pristine areas. Lumping those two together with wind and solar is troubling."
The master plan advocates the development of a new nuclear facility, especially since it rules out new coal-fired plants as too polluting. One of the state's current nuclear facilities, Oyster Creek in Ocean County, is supposed to close in 2019.
Public Service Enterprise Group, parent company of PSE&G, has wanted to build a fourth nuclear reactor at its Salem County facility, but in a footnote of the master plan, Christie suggests that he might prefer another facility at Oyster Creek, because the area has a highly skilled workforce, local support and an existing electrical transmission infrastructure.
The plan says that a state panel will be created to "assess how or whether nuclear energy will play a role" in New Jersey's future in-state energy generation.
The final version of the master plan remains largely unchanged from a draft released in June, even after the administration held three public hearings with more than 400 people participating. The Board of Public Utilities received verbal and written comments from more than 300 associations, companies and individuals.
The plan shifts the focus of solar incentives from residential customers and toward large commercial or municipal projects. Christie argues that such projects should take priority because they reduce energy costs for businesses and local governments and provide revenue for job creation and tax reduction.
Advocates, however, say residential solar units can alleviate demand for power and reduce overall energy costs.
Christie's plan cautions that while solar power is a laudable goal, it is far more costly than other energy sources. The plan estimates that the cost of solar is $210 per megawatt-hour, compared with $114 for advanced nuclear, $95 for conventional coal and $86 for hydro. Solar advocates, said at a hearing last summer that Christie's plan uses outdated and inflated figures when calculating solar energy costs.
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