Generating energy from offshore wind is the most obvious – and yet still untapped – strategy to allow New Jersey to reach its clean energy goals. Offshore wind also represents a clear win for both labor and the environment because the massive wind turbines create a supply-chain of union labor through the construction, delivery, installation, interconnection and long-term maintenance of these units. New Jersey – because of its geographical location on the East Coast – still represents a tantalizing hub for the offshore wind industry. More than a decade ago, New Jersey was poised to become a leader in offshore wind, and even in the early days of the Christie Administration, it looked like New Jersey would establish itself as the first state in the nation to move forward on offshore wind.
Unfortunately, state policy on offshore wind has remained frozen over the last seven years. The landmark legislation of 2010 – the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act – now serves as a white elephant, as there has been little to no progress moving forward since its passage. Yet the potential for offshore wind remains as strong as ever, with a 2016 Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center report labeling the state as the strongest of the East Coast wind energy areas, based on data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The largest step forward came during the Obama Administration, as the Department of Interior successfully announced auctions for offshore wind lease areas, and held a successful auction in November 2015 generating roughly $2 million. Today, there are two large offshore wind companies – DONG Energy and U.S. Wind – waiting in the wings to move forward on off-shore wind.
But seven years after grinding to a halt, there is much to do to get offshore wind moving in New Jersey.
Green job training offers high-quality job opportunities for both unemployed and incumbent workers who, in turn, improve the environment and economy in their immediate communities. Jobs in the renewable energy sector are stable and well-paying with average wages nearly $5,000 more than the national median. They are also accessible to people with varied educational backgrounds; half of those employed in the industry do not have a bachelor’s degree.
The widespread need for energy efficiency upgrades and environmental cleanup in New Jersey’s residential and commercial buildings, along with accelerated deployment and servicing of renewable energy systems, create an opportunity for workforce development at all income levels across the state. Energy efficiency training offers major employment opportunities in the lighting and electrical sectors, weatherization, home and business energy audits, and new technology development. Renewable energy-related job training offers opportunities in solar array installation and wind turbine manufacturing, installation, and servicing.
More energy efficient homes are also healthier, more affordable homes, particularly in our state’s most vulnerable communities. Utility bills are a major cause of homelessness in low-income households because these homes often lack the necessary upgrades for energy efficiency and environmental safety; nearly 750,000 low-income families in NJ qualify for state fuel assistance. Lead-based paint is still common in many of New Jersey’s older schools, public housing, and abandoned industrial facilities; while progress has been made in remediating lead-contaminated buildings, much work remains.
A comprehensive environmental agenda should advance energy efficiency standards in the state and also address the serious environmental issues impacting occupants of housing. Many energy updates cannot be made in homes with substandard conditions like leaky roofs, broken windows, lead contamination or pests.
Using the standards of the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to certify training centers along with improving funding and opportunities for job training in energy efficiency and environmental health will offer major savings for low-income families, better community health, and family-sustaining jobs.
New Jersey became a national player in clean, renewable energy in the early 2000s as a mechanism to fight pollution. The combination of a new Clean Energy Fund created by the deregulation of the state’s energy markets in 1999 and a new gubernatorial administration led to the creation and strengthening of a Renewable Portfolio Standard by the state’s Board of Public Utilities. More than a decade ago, New Jersey became a national leader by requiring 22.5% of its energy come from clean, renewable sources by 2020. But the progress New Jersey was making came to a sudden halt with the onset of the Christie Administration.
During the course of the Christie administration, the state’s solar sector has continued to expand because the state’s clean energy program was institutionalized into law right before Gov. Christie took office. Despite initial promises to expand off-shore wind and even signing legislation to do so, the Christie Administration has stalled all progress on off-shore wind. But the clearest sign of the Administration’s hostile view to renewable energy was the immediate effort to throw out the work of the Corzine Administration’s extensive Energy Master Plan and the abandonment of a revised RPS of 30% clean, renewable energy by 2025.
While New Jersey has essentially sat out of the national race to a clean, renewable future, other states have moved ahead. Two years ago, California legislated that 50% of its energy must come from clean, renewable sources by 2030, and is now on the cusp of passing legislation to move to 100% clean, renewable sources by 2045. Hawaii has already signed legislation to reach 100% by 2045. New York has committed to reaching 50% clean, renewable energy by 2030. The call for aggressive state action has only intensified since President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.
New Jersey has clearly lost much ground since we vaulted to the top of the national stage on clean energy in the early 2000s. But the groundwork of our early successes – and the urgent need for action on climate change – provide needed momentum to achieve our Global Warming Response Act goals of 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and put people to work creating clean, renewable energy.
New Jersey is one of the largest automobile markets in the country. Known for its population density and highways, New Jersey has a large number of commuters, resulting in lots of cars on the road, nearly all the time. Nearly 45% of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey come from the transportation sector; light-duty automobiles, like a standard family car, are the dominant source of transportation emissions.
Heavy-duty vehicles, typically diesel trucks for industrial or commercial use, are also a significant source of emissions, especially particulate matter which contributes to poor air quality and negatively impacts residents’ health. Because New Jersey is such a densely populated state, residents, particularly those in urban areas, are subject to high concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
Every traveled mile converted to electric is 70% cleaner than a gas-powered mile. Increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road is a crucial step to meeting the state emissions reduction goals. Electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way since their inception. Increased range and more affordable pricing, along with proposed policies for charging infrastructure, make electric vehicles a practical choice for New Jersey’s commuters.
New Jersey has already taken steps to become a leader in EVs by being the first state to adopt a Clean Cars program through the Legislature, which includes a Zero Emissions Vehicle program, mandating aggressive growth. State investment in electric charging infrastructure and mass transit can push New Jersey to the front of the pack on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. At the same time, New Jersey must invest in cleaner forms of transportation including biking and walking infrastructure and renewed support for mass transit – all of which will help shift people out of cars.
Despite improvements, New Jersey still suffers from some of the country’s worst air pollution. According to a 2017 American Lung Association (ALA) report, the New York-Newark metro area is among the “25 most polluted cities” for ozone and fine particulates. Both cause respiratory illnesses, cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, premature death and adverse pregnancy outcomes. While all New Jerseyans suffer from dirty air, communities of color and low-income communities are more highly impacted as they are more likely to live near ports, industries and high-volume traffic corridors.
New Jersey’s air pollution comes in two primary forms – ozone also referred to as “smog” and particulate matter (PM) commonly known as soot. Ozone is a powerful lung irritant formed near ground level “when pollutants are emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight.” Eleven NJ counties received an “F” by the ALA for their high ozone concentrations.
Particulate matter (PM) is also a major public health threat. It is emitted by automobiles, trucks, locomotives, ships, tug boats and cargo handling equipment at our ports, as well as commercial and industrial facilities. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers, (PM2.5) can lodge deeply in the lungs with even smaller “ultrafine” particulates having the ability to enter the bloodstream causing even greater harm.
Many of the steps to reduce ozone pollution will also result in a reduction of PM2.5, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other criteria and co-pollutants making the recommendations described below all the more urgent, especially in communities already overburdened by the adverse impacts of air pollution on their health and quality of life.
Climate change is a global challenge that poses an imminent threat to the New Jersey environment and economy. Strong state policy is required to slow the effects of climate change and ensure the creation of good jobs through cutting greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean energy and efficiency. A clean energy job is any job that helps achieve our goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting our environment.
Nationwide, renewable energy accounts for just 10 percent of electricity consumption and 15 percent of electricity generation; renewable energy capacity has increased more than 115 percent over the last 15 years. The long-term transition to clean energy offers the potential of large-scale economic benefits. Much like in the rest of the country, innovation and jobs in clean energy technologies are already growing in New Jersey. By developing and manufacturing green technology domestically, we have the ability to capture even more of these growing industries.
Innovation in the clean energy economy presents tremendous opportunity for the global environment and for workers in manufacturing, construction, and the service sector. But creating clean energy manufacturing jobs, in particular, will not be easy. While we have a chance to set the standard for high-quality, family-supporting jobs in New Jersey, there is much work to be done.