Wind, Solar Power Would Boost New Jersey Economy, Study Says
Dec. 2A proposed renewable energy program would cost New Jersey homeowners as little as $5 a year and provide economic and health benefits to the state, a Rutgers University study has found.
The study, prepared by the Rutgers Center for Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy, was commissioned by the Board of Public Utilities to determine the effects of having 20 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. The report was presented at the BPU meeting Wednesday in Newark.
The governor's Renewable Energy Task Force last year called for 4 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable resources by 2008, and 20 percent by 2020. Now, less than 1 percent comes from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass, which derives energy from decomposing landfills.
"Traditionally, the debate has been whether the adoption of an RPS 1/8renewable portfolio standard3/8 would end life as we know it in the free world," said Scott Weiner, a former BPU president who led the study team.
"There was a real concern that an RPS, because renewable technologies are so expensive comparatively, would have such a negative ripple effect on the economy," Weiner said. But the study shows that overall impact on the New Jersey economy, even in a worst-case scenario, "is so small to be negligible."
In meeting the 20 percent goal, electric rates would rise just 3.7 percent and the state would gain as many as 11,700 jobs and $330 million in economic benefits, said Weiner, who is director of the economic center that is part of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. The figures assume that costs of producing wind and solar energy will decline.
Because there are so many variables, including many beyond the state's control, the $330 million in benefits is an estimate, Weiner said.
If the costs for wind and solar power stay high there would be a 24 percent increase in electric rates, but there would be a limited impact on the state's overall economy, Weiner said.
For the state to get the full benefits, however, it has to act quickly in deciding whether to develop offshore wind power generators, Weiner said. "New Jersey is in a race right now with other states" for the manufacturing jobs that could be created.
"These jobs alone aren't enough to say we should have offshore wind," he said. But they are enough that if state policymakers decide to commit to wind power, the jobs are "enough that we should do it now."
The study found that wind power was the most economically viable, with generation coming from off-shore windmills.
Solar technology would be part of the mix, but it is seven times more costly than wind, so subsidies would be needed, and there is little growth potential in biomass in the state because of restrictions on landfills.
Along with economic benefits of switching from fossil fuels, the state would gain significant health and environmental benefits, the study said. In addition, the availability of alternative power sources could put some downward pressure on natural gas prices.
The report is only the start of a fact-finding process, BPU President Jeanne Fox said. The next step is to convene a stakeholders forum to allow all interested parties to review the report before the BPU takes specific steps to implement policies to reach the goals.
The Rutgers study was to "set out the facts," Fox said. "We make the decisions."
The full report will be available next week on the BPU Web site, www.bpu.state.nj.us.
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© 2004, The Record, Hackensack, N.J. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.