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New Jersey Climate News

News Aggregation from the NJ Climate Change Resource Center

Smokestack, photo by Amalie Hindash for New Jersey Monitor
Amalie Hindash for New Jersey Monitor


New Jersey Explores Sunset of Fossil Fuel Power Plants

Proposed constitutional amendment would bar new plants, phasing out existing ones

NIKITA BIRYUKOV / NEW JERSEY MONITOR – New Jersey lawmakers are exploring a tectonic shift in the state’s energy policy that could phase out nearly all of its fossil fuel power plants in the coming decades and ensure they don’t return without a rewrite of the state constitution.

On Monday, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will hold a discussion — but no vote — on a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar the creation or reactivation of fossil fuel power plants. The amendment would allow existing plants to run through the end of their life cycles, but no longer.

“It provides for a gradual transition and hopefully avoids any rate shock to the ratepayers. We’re trying to keep rate shock to an absolute minimum, but the truth of the matter is even the natural gas plants are a major issue,” said Senate Environment Chairman Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the amendment’s sponsor. “They’re a major problem in terms of carbon dioxide production.”

In 2022, roughly 51.3% of the energy generated in New Jersey came from natural gas plants, with nuclear power (43.5%) accounting for much of what remained, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Opponents of the plan — a coalition that involves business groups, petroleum producers, and engineers union ELEC825 — have warned such a transition would be too sudden to meet New Jersey’s energy needs, especially as the state seeks to increase the use of electric vehicles and HVAC systems.

“If we’re going to begin to electrify our cars, if we’re going to begin to electrify our buildings more, we will need to double and maybe even triple the amount of electricity we need to generate,” said Ray Cantor, deputy chief government affairs officer for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “That needs to come from somewhere, and right now in New Jersey, over half of it comes from natural gas.”

Natural gas plants have a life cycle of a few decades, with some ranging as high as 50 years and others as low as 20. The amendment would see them sunset at different points in time.

Some natural gas plants, called peaker plants, meant to address short-term energy shortages would remain under the amendment, Smith said.

New Jersey lawmakers cannot amend the constitution on their own. Any proposed amendment must be approved by lawmakers — either by passing each chamber once with a two-thirds majority or by passing each chamber once in consecutive legislative sessions — but voter ultimately decide via referendum whether parts of the state constitution are rewritten.

Republicans have consistently opposed Gov. Phil Murphy’s renewable energy goals and are unlikely to lend their votes to the amendment. Democrats don’t need GOP votes to reach a three-fifths supermajority in either chamber, but there’s no guarantee every member of the majority will back the plan, especially with gubernatorial and Assembly elections looming in 2025.

At the same meeting, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will discuss another measure banning the state’s pension funds from investing in the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies.

The move is largely symbolic given New Jersey pensions’ anemic investment in fossil firms, Smith said, but it’s meant to push them away from petroleum products and toward renewables.

“They should be the leaders in the renewable field. They need to start switching direction, and the point of it is to try to send a shot over their bow,” Smith said. “They really need to be responsible and get engaged in the climate change efforts, and renewable energy would be a great place for them.”

Opponents worry divestment could have the opposite effect.

“These companies are doing the right thing by working toward new technologies for the transformation, but the idea that you’re going to deprive them of capital and then somehow force them to transition is just backwards,” Cantor said.

Smith said the amendment and divestment bill were likely to see votes at the committee’s following meeting. Then, the panel will also weigh legislation requiring the Board of Public Utilities to explore interconnection upgrades that would make the state’s energy grid more responsible to changes in demand.

A bill that would codify New Jersey’s goal of drawing 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035 was also likely to return, Smith said.

The senator added he wants to create a $250 million catastrophic relief fund to help local governments keep public safety services running in the aftermath of severe storms, matching locals dollar-to-dollar for repairs and weatherization on municipal buildings, police headquarters, and firehouses, among others.

“The time you need government the most is in the middle of a disaster, so we have to make sure we have a mechanism for getting reconstruction, renovations, making them sustainable, whatever. If you can’t deliver public safety services, what good are you?” Smith said.

He also wants to push New Jersey utilities toward small modular reactors, a smaller and less maintenance-intensive type of nuclear reactor that federal energy regulators expect to begin deploying sometime in the next decade.

Smith acknowledged the proposals would be “very controversial,” but said the alternatives are worse.

“I hate to sound like Cassandra, but we have some tough times facing us,” Smith said. “Last summer’s three weeks of not being able to breathe is just the tip of the iceberg.”

This article is republished under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. 


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Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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