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  • May 13, 2020

What do you do if you're competing against a product that's cleaner, safer and healthier?

If you're in the fossil fuel business, you claim that this superior product -- clean energy, like wind and solar -- will cost consumers too much.

And you make alarmist claims that people will lose the freedom to buy the home appliances of their choice.

The fossil-fuel industry makes these misleading claims in opposition to the new state Energy Master Plan (EMP), which puts New Jersey on a path to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050.

We've learned during this horrible pandemic that nothing is more important than our health. The EMP is a plan to fight back against asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other illnesses linked to the harmful effects of air pollution from burning of fossil fuels. The EMP and the analytics underlying it reveal the truth: Clean energy costs fell so far in the past 10 years that the least-cost pathway identified by the EMP will reduce the costs of energy in the state, relative to today, while achieving the state's emissions goals.

Reduced costs mean that using the EMP as our road map will save customers money compared with continued reliance on large amounts of natural gas and other dirty fossil fuels. The EMP analysis shows that energy costs, as a percentage of New Jersey's total spending on all goods and services, will decline over the next 30 years, and that the cost of new investments in clean energy technologies will be largely offset by savings from buying far less fossil fuel.

Savings are also evident when the cost is calculated the way that matters most to people: dollars spent on energy bills and health problems caused by dirty fossil fuel emissions. The EMP's least-cost pathway to clean energy leads to saving $2 billion on the combination of energy bills and health costs, relative to today. The facts are undeniable: Clean energy will save New Jersey residents money.

But that doesn't stop fossil fuel interests from trying. Take, for example, Consumers Energy Alliance, an industry front group run by a lobbying firm in Houston. Under the guise of protecting average people, CEA's propaganda conveniently ignores the tremendous cost reductions already achieved by clean energy technologies and denies the fact that clean energy now offers the lowest-cost pathway to a healthy economy, healthy communities and a healthy environment.

Instead, they trot out a misleading notion from 15 years ago that affordable clean energy is so far away that we need fossil fuels as a "bridge." The truth: Costs of solar and wind have dropped so dramatically over the past decade that electric utilities, regulators and energy providers across the U.S. now largely choose low-cost renewables over natural gas. The bridge was dismantled some time ago.

New construction of solar and wind is projected to far outpace new gas plants, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports. This year, 76% of new electric capacity will come from solar and wind development, with only 22% of planned new capacity for natural gas.

The notion that more gas is needed in New Jersey amounts to what the futurist writer Alex Steffen calls "predatory delay." People whose profits come from destructive, unsustainable practices know change is needed, but they hold it off so they can keep selling -- in this case -- fossil fuel as long as possible.

The Energy Master Plan, by contrast, looks with care and analytical rigor into emerging clean energy opportunities. It's a compelling, forward-looking blueprint for transforming New Jersey's energy economy to clean energy and reduce overall energy costs to homes and businesses.

The icing on the cake is that this clean energy transformation will create thousands of good, local jobs and spur new industries that will help our economy recover from the worst crisis since the Great Depression -- while creating a safer, healthier New Jersey.

Who -- besides those who make money extracting and selling fossil fuels -- could complain about that?

Tom Gilbert is campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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Tom Gilbert

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