Despite Bipartisan Criticism, New Jersey Continues to Mandate Electrification

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is rolling full steam ahead with his electrification initiative, without considering the voices of opposition ringing throughout the state.

With the release of the second iteration of its Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Strategic Funding Plan last month, New Jersey continues to push its aggressive agenda aimed at shifting its 9 million residents away from natural gas in favor of building and home electrification.

This approval should have New Jerseyans worried as comprehensive electrification will restrict consumer choice, threatening the freedom to choose how their homes and businesses are powered. It will also raise consumer costs, as much of the financial burden from this massive transition will fall on the backs of consumers.

Phase Two rollout

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) met in late July to unanimously pass a series of decarbonization measures through the second energy framework, seeking “to maximize energy efficiency and energy conservation in buildings while also reducing emissions from the building sector, in line with the State’s new clean energy and electrification goals.”

Set to go into effect July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2027, these measures are an extension of the aggressive Energy Master Plan Gov. Murphy developed in pursuit of cross-industry electrification to achieve 100 percent clean energy in New Jersey by 2050.

The newly approved framework notably directs state utilities to create energy efficiency programs in order to financially incentivize customers to install electric heat pumps and make buildings electrification-ready. The utility decarbonization plans are due to the NJPBU by October 2 this year and are meant to contribute to Gov. Murphy’s goals detailed in Executive Order 316 – calling for the installation of zero-carbon-emission space heating and cooling systems in 400,000 homes and 20,000 commercial properties, with 10 percent of all low-to-moderate income (LMI) properties electrification-ready by 2030.

NJBPU President Joseph Fiordaliso claims the sweeping reforms are a necessary step to combat climate change by reducing energy use, yet had to defend the Board’s decision at the July meeting amidst criticism that the plan was rushing electrification. Emphasizing that the new framework was not a mandate against gas, he lashed out against those who questioned its possible effects:

“There has been a lot of misinformation and, yes, fearmongering out there. And I want to put an end to it once and for all. We are not coming for your gas stove or your local pizza shop’s oven. We are not forcing you, anyone, to do anything in any way.”

Even more questionable was the assertion from Catherine Klinger, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy, that the new utility efficiency programs will “save customers millions of dollars in energy costs” despite some New Jersey business groups estimating that Murphy’s proposals could total $1 trillion.

Opposition abundant

Critics of this initiative have voiced that the new program restricts consumer choice, pushing the cost of the energy transition on New Jersey citizens through a rubber-stamp initiative while undermining energy reliability.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25) argued more public input was needed, stating it is disturbing that the administration is trying to go around the Legislature to enact these plans:

“The Murphy Administration doesn’t seem to care that people don’t want to replace their gas stoves or undertake expensive conversations to electric furnaces and water heaters. The BPU’s action demonstrates that they’re willing to start implementing electrification plans no matter how unpopular they are, regardless of the cost, and without legislative oversight.” (emphasis added)

Senator Holly Schepisi (R-39) similarly said the BPU is forging ahead with its plan to phase out natural gas in New Jersey despite significant pushback:

“The BPU’s approval today is the first step of Governor Murphy’s electrification effort that will result in gas stoves and appliances being banned, mirroring the recent mandate banning future sales of gas cars. New Jerseyans cannot afford the $1.4 trillion price tag of an extreme energy plan that will leave them with fewer options and significantly higher electric bills.” (emphasis added)

The feeling is bipartisan.

Democrat John Burzichelli, a former state assemblyman running for a State Senate seat in New Jersey’s third legislative district, said the program is a “misguided approach to achieving our clean energy goals.” He added:

“These extreme mandates are out of touch. I cannot, in good faith, support the electrification regulations.” (emphasis added)

State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) pointed to the economic reality:

“While I’m supportive of efforts to expand the utilization of clean energy in the state and to offer incentives to move in that direction, we still don’t have a full accounting of the consequences this rule could carry for New Jersey taxpayers. We’ve made some important strides towards addressing New Jersey’s affordability crisis in recent years and any type of mandate could hurt working-class families in New Jersey.” (emphasis added)

According to The New Jersey Globe, four Democratic Assembly candidates – Heather Simmons and Dave Bailey (D-03) and Cody Miller and Dan Hutchison (D-04) – also signed on as opponents. As did Democratic legislators from the 38th district – State Sen. Joseph Lagana, Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, and Assemblyman Christopher Tully – who said:

“Consumer choice and affordability are paramount concerns for us, and we are therefore strongly opposed to the implementation of any fixed timelines or mandates towards full electrification without more time, consideration, and development of our electrical infrastructure capabilities. These types of regulations can have drastic effects on our economy, infrastructure, and residents’ lives and therefore must be highly scrutinized and carefully reviewed for viability before being implemented.”

Industry cautioned against the feasibility and speed of electrification mandates, with New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) Deputy Chief Government Affairs Officer Ray Cantor reminding that ratepayers would be burdened with the transition costs:

It is better to get it right, than get it first. The seeming merger of the energy efficiency program and the building electrification policy is concerning to us. These are separate policies with separate metrics and should be treated as such. The BPU should not seek to cover the cost of building electrification by hiding it in rates through the efficiency program. Transparency should result in the best public policy.” (emphasis added)

Bottom Line: New Jersey’s rollout of the second phase of its comprehensive building and vehicle electrification initiative goes against public opinion and citizens’ best interests. To roll out an enormous electrification plan so rapidly is a threat to the energy grid, putting millions of New Jerseyans’ economic wellbeing at risk through a high-speed transition which will inevitably lead to energy security issues throughout the state and makes the critical mistake of not integrating with natural gas infrastructure that is already in place.

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