New Jersey faces major threats from climate change. The state has already seen the impacts of heat waves and increased flooding from sea level rise. We cannot afford to be unprepared in the face of the next Superstorm Sandy caused by climate change. Likewise, there are major social and economic impacts of climate change if our state does not act quickly to reduce emissions. New Jersey’s electricity grid is vulnerable to power outages from extreme weather, like Superstorm Sandy and the storm that hit South Jersey in 2015 when nearly 300,000 people lost power.
New Jersey must build a better energy future. It is well within our reach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and secure prosperity and health for all New Jerseyans, in a cheaper manner than our current fossil-fuel economy. In fact, a 2015 report by Stanford and UC Berkeley showed that by achieving 100 percent wind, water, and solar energy by 2050, New Jersey would save $57 per person in annual energy costs. New Jersey can return to being a clean energy leader, learn from other states that are leading the way on climate change and save ratepayers money as well.
In November 2016, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research released a report on strategies for Maryland to achieve its climate change goals. The Roadmap for a Healthy, Economical, and Equitable Energy Future included policy recommendations that New Jersey can learn from and adapt by pursuing similar climate goals. Maryland’s Climate Protection Scenario, which achieves zero carbon emissions by 2050, would save the state 1.3-7.3 billion dollars per year in 2050.
Jobs in the solar industry grew by 25% in 2015. Image source: Inhabitat.com
New Jersey can benefit from action on climate change in three major ways:
- Workforce Development
By pursuing more energy from wind, water, and solar, New Jersey would create jobs. One study suggested our state would create 86,000 construction jobs and 58,600 operation jobs between now and 2050, though more research is needed. NJ can benefit especially from offshore and onshore wind, which would unlock a new market for consumers and workers. In addition, the solar industry has seen job growth that consistently outpaces the U.S. average: in 2016, one out of every 50 new U.S. jobs was in the solar industry, and 44 states saw an increase in solar jobs. In New Jersey, more than 7,000 people work in the solar industry. It is crucial that NJ leverage the power of clean energy, including energy efficiency, to create thousands of new jobs.
- Energy Access
Expanding distributed renewable energy will create a more resilient electric grid. Including energy storage with batteries and using combined heat and power can ease any issues of intermittency without having to rely on baseload natural gas. Electricity costs will also decrease due to low generation costs for renewables like solar and wind, so that the average New Jerseyan may save $57 per year in energy costs by 2050.
- Environmental and Health Benefits
Renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives improve environmental quality and health by reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases. Air pollution like sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulate matter, will decrease when New Jersey makes the switch to more wind, water, and solar power. Heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and respiratory infections are associated with emissions from coal and gas power plants. NJ had 15,000 asthma-related hospitalizations in 2015 and nearly 4,000 deaths due to lung cancer in 2014. By using a greater percentage of renewable power in 2050, NJ will avoid more than 1,500 air pollution-related deaths each year. Renewable energy also reduces water consumption, given that solar and wind generation draw little to no water.
To solve the twin issues of climate change and modernizing the electric grid, the Roadmap offers several comprehensive solutions:
- Invest in energy efficiency, and make the switch to renewable energy.
Focus on energy efficiency to save money and reduce unnecessary electricity use and emissions. Energy efficiency measures create economic opportunity through job creation, consumer cost savings, and investments. For example, every dollar invested in household retrofits to increase energy efficiency results in $2.53 in community benefits, or more than double the impact.
- Modernized Electric Grid: Build a more resilient and democratic electricity system.
Maintain universal access to reliable electricity at affordable costs. Increase transparency and renewable access to the grid. We must prioritize access for environmental justice communities and avoid leaving behind low-income households.
- Energy Equity and Jobs: Include protections for consumers and workers:
a. Support creating green jobs in under-served areas to bring local economic benefits from reducing climate change and to foster more resilient communities.
b. Invest proactively in communities that are currently dependent on fossil-fuel-related jobs to ensure they receive full benefits from the clean energy industry.
c. Provide energy assistance to low-income households for all types of electricity, including solar and other renewables. Ensure equal access to clean energy and the benefits of renewable energy.
With rising sea levels and warming temperatures, now more than ever, it is imperative that New Jersey take action on climate change. By working together and implementing policies that are inclusive, ensure equity, and create jobs, we can build a healthy, prosperous, zero-emissions future for all New Jerseyans. The recent launch of Jersey Renews promises the type of coalition effort we’ll need to succeed.
This piece was written by Vivian Chang, a second-year Master in Public Affairs student at Princeton University and an intern with the NJ Work Environment Council.