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NJ regulator: Lack of action by feds means states must lead on clean energy

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities made several decisions in 2019 aimed at expanding or maintaining emissions-free generation resources. Predicting which of those rulings might have the most lasting impact on the Garden State is not easy, according to BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso.

Those decisions include approving the rules for a three-year community solar pilot program, granting subsidies to three nuclear power units, and naming a 1,100-MW offshore wind farm to be developed by Ørsted A/S off the coast of Atlantic City as the winner of the state's first offshore wind solicitation. Fiordaliso pointed out in a recent interview that the offshore wind decision could have a big ripple effect for New Jersey as it helps the state meet its new goal of having 7,500 MW of such resources online by 2035.

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New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso.

Source: New Jersey BPU

"They all, in their own way, are going to have a significant impact on the state while contributing to the vision of the governor to make New Jersey a leader and to make New Jersey carbon-neutral by 2050," Fiordaliso told S&P Global Market Intelligence in early December.

The zero-emission credits, or ZECs, approved for the Salem and Hope Creek plants will help get New Jersey to carbon-neutrality by 2050, Fiordaliso said. And while community solar remains in its infancy, the pilot program will provide a vital stepping stone in the state's push to make solar more accessible.

Meanwhile, offshore wind will provide millions of New Jersey residents with clean generation and has the potential to boost the state economy, Fiordaliso noted. The state's location on the East Coast puts it in a good position to sit at the center of the offshore wind supply chain, thereby bringing additional economic growth to New Jersey. The board president said he and other New Jersey officials want to work with nearby states that also are interested in pursuing offshore wind since the success of the fledgling industry subsector depends on regional cooperation.

"I just wish that the federal government would jump on board and help lead this country into an area where clean energy is a top priority," Fiordaliso said, adding that in the absence of federal action, states are coming up with innovative ideas. "If they're not going to do it, we have to do it."

Additional offshore wind solicitations in the state are set to take place in 2020 and 2022. Regulators also are looking into how the state should plan its transmission system as offshore wind becomes a bigger part of New Jersey's generation mix.

Shift to renewables must be 'prudent' and 'practical'

Fiordaliso declined to talk specifically about the board's decision to award ZECs to the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants as that ruling is under appeal. Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. subsidiary PSEG Nuclear LLC operates the plants; both are in Salem County, N.J. It owns the Hope Creek facility and co-owns the Salem plant along with Exelon Corp. subsidiary Exelon Generation Co. LLC.

However, Fiordaliso spoke generally about why approving about $300 million a year in ratepayer-funded subsidies is important.

The move was necessary to keep the facilities operating, according to the board president. He said nuclear plants must be a part of a strategic energy plan as they, along with natural gas, will provide a crucial bridge for meeting Gov. Phil Murphy's 2050 energy goals. There has to be enough energy available, for example, to heat people's homes, Fiordaliso said.

"I understand some people are anxious to go all renewable," he said. "I am too. But I think we have to be prudent and we have to be practical."

The year also brought positive changes to the PJM Interconnection, according to Fiordaliso.

The BPU board president criticized PJM in July 2018 for failing to collaborate and communicate with the states and hinted that New Jersey might withdraw from the regional transmission organization if things did not improve. He said recent leadership changes, including the departure of former President and CEO Andy Ott and a series of other executive appointments, have brought about a new culture that is inviting states to participate and become partners with the grid operator. That is good, given the "revolutionary period in energy generation" that now exists, Fiordaliso said.

"With more and more renewable energy, PJM and the states have to work closely together," he said. "I'm willing to do that. I think they are becoming more willing to do that, and I look for a much brighter future with them."

Activity remains high for the board as 2019 comes to a close, and 2020 appears to be shaping up to be just as busy, Fiordaliso noted.

In early December, the board approved a new solar incentive program to serve as a bridge between an existing program and one that has not yet been developed. The move stems from a 2018 law that, in addition to expanding New Jersey's renewable portfolio standard, called for the board to close the existing solar renewable energy certificate program to new applications when 5.1% of the electricity sold in the state comes from solar or by June 2021, whichever comes first.

To that end, the board established 15-year, fixed-price Transition Renewable Energy Certificates, or TRECs, which will be available to projects that were in the solar renewable energy certificate pipeline as of Oct. 29, 2018, but have not reached commercial operation at the time the board determines the 5.1% milestone has been reached. The board said at the time that it planned to hold a cost-cap proceeding in early 2020 to determine the annual value of the TRECs, where it will consider a flat 15-year TREC price of $152 or a lower price of $65 for the first three years and $189 for the remaining 12 years.

The board also is in the middle of reviewing 252 applications it received for the first year of the community solar pilot program, a number Fiordaliso said is "more than we could have ever imagined." The applications represent more than 650 MW of capacity, though the first year has a capacity limit of 75 MW.

"I don't see any slowdown, honestly," Fiordaliso said.