TRENTON – New Jersey’s goal for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 is attainable and affordable, particularly if the state is willing to use a significant amount of power generated out-of-state, says a new Princeton University study.

A study published March 14 and detailed that day for the Senate environment committee by Princeton University energy system engineering professor Jesse Jenkins finds that it’s feasible to transition to clean energy options and reduce costs for the bulk electricity supply by 5% to 25% while doing it.

But Jenkins said that lowest-cost scenario involves the state importing about two-thirds of its power from out-of-state sources. All but 10% of the New Jersey’s power supply is now generated in-state, with nuclear plants that are due to be retired after 2030 accounting for a bulk of it.

“That’s definitely the central choice that our study identifies: How much do we want to depend on lower-cost resources from throughout the region,” Jenkins said. “Importing solar from North Carolina for example or wind from Indiana, Illinois or Pennsylvania, where the resource quality is better and there’s more land availability.”

Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said he doesn’t think New Jersey wants to depend on other states and their policies. But he acknowledges that price is a consideration.

“The actions that we need to take for global climate change we think will meet great resistance from the New Jersey public if there is a huge cost associated with it,” Smith said.

Jenkins said the state’s current energy plan “prioritizes in-state and distributed energy resources like rooftop and utility-scale solar, offshore wind and our existing nuclear power plants.”

Offshore wind is the most expensive option, he said. He said it’s possible to create carbon-free energy in-state at a price comparable to current costs – by emphasizing large solar farms, if land can be found, and new gas-fired, combined-cycle power plants that would be converted by 2050 to zero-carbon fuels.

“That can include some combination of hydrogen, biomethane or biogas or synthetic methane produced from carbon-free or carbon-neutral sources,” said Jenkins, who heads the Princeton University ZERO Lab – short for the Zero carbon Energy systems Research and Optimization Laboratory.

“The key would be to maintain our existing nuclear reactors and to develop utility-scale solar resources within the state – so larger, multi-megawatt solar farms,” he said.

The Princeton study was supported by Public Service Enterprise Group through Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership. PSEG operates the Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Stations in Lower Alloways Creek in Salem County.

Offshore wind and rooftop solar are considerably more expensive, Jenkins said, but he noted there are considerations beyond affordability such as economic development and environmental impacts.

Jenkins said the state also needs to consider that electricity demand could increase by 70%, with peak demand up 85%, because of the electrification of vehicles and buildings. He said peaks for consumption will shift from summer afternoons driven by air conditioning demand to winter nights driven by EV charging and heat pumps.

“That has important implications for the value of different resources in our mix – for example, the role of solar power, which produces most of its energy of course during the daytime and can’t contribute to those winter overnight peak periods,” Jenkins said.

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The state has not yet completed an analysis of the cost impacts of the state’s energy master plan, though a report could be issued this fall.

The Department of Environmental Protection held a hearing Tuesday on the costs of a proposed rule about industrial electric boilers. It was a follow-up hearing that was required after the state significantly understated the potential cost of the proposed mandate.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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