Energy Master Plans: State, City, School and Home
The upper levels of governance strategically—and painstakingly—create projections for where energy will come from and how it will be used. The same analysis should apply at the township and school level, and continue into the home.
A long-awaited document from the Christie administration was released last week with ramifications to New Jersey businesses and homeowners. It's the 2011 Energy Master Plan—a 151-page document, a draft of which was released in June that was received with something between disappointment and outrage.
The Energy Master Plan (EMP) is a roadmap that offers projections, new initiatives and guiding actions to meet the state's energy needs affordably, but while keeping environmental considerations close at hand. As to whether or not the 2011 EMP does just that depends on who you ask.
The June draft was released at the same time Solar Renewable Energy Certificate ("SRECs"—a major financing incentive for solar customers) values plummeted. That was because a glut of commercial-scale projects were in the works, flooding the market with SRECs, driving down the price substantially. Enter Christie's EMP, which scaled back to 22.5 percent the former Governor Corzine's goal of 30 percent renewable energy production by 2021.
That softened stance meant the future prospects of solar in New Jersey were at best unknowable, and at worst untenable.
The final version of the EMP keeps the downshifted goal, but accelerates the timeline by which utilities have to buy SRECs, a gesture to help the state's solar market recover.
Other aspects of the EMP include a focus on increasing natural gas (but without any acknowledgement to the ill effects of hydraulic fracking), and newly expressed concerns over how the state will meet its renewable power goals once the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant meets its scheduled close in 2019.
The idea that a legislating body publicly announces its long-range strategies is of course expected. And the energy industry being as volatile and fast-developing as it is, we're right to demand such executive-level scrutiny. But what about at the municipal level? Should our mayors be offering similar proposals about how energy policy and tech advances impact our lives, both as taxpayers and heads of households?
And what about schools? With educational budgets accounting for about two-thirds of town revenue collections, shouldn't we insist upon knowing where they plan to implement energy-saving initiatives? Is the high school seeking a solar installation? Have they retrofitted the HVAC and lights?
Are any educational programs underway that spread good recycling habits, producing responsible next-generation citizens, reducing our landfill tipping fees, and prompting other innovations in a sector that so desperately needs it?
Good communication is vital between a governing body and its constituents. The information they possess is a great weapon, and sharing it effectively creates a potent ripple effect. The enemy in this case is scarcity—after all, if affordable energy was abundant, it wouldn't warrant 151 pages. In the battle for clean energy, we're all fighting on the same team. That's true for a nation, a town, or a home.