TRENTON – State environmental regulators are going to have to hold another public hearing on a portion of their proposed climate change rule after finding they had significantly understated the costs.

The Department of Environmental Protection is proposing that some industrial and commercial boilers installed starting in 2025 run on electricity, not fossil fuels. They had originally said that could raise operating costs between 4% and 5% compared with natural gas boilers - but actually meant it could increase costs by four to five times.

The state detected the error before an initial hearing but scheduled a second one for March 29 specifically on the boiler portion of a larger proposal meant to address the emissions that cause climate change.

Even at the first hearing, critics of the plan took aim. They said the electric grid isn’t ready for it and would for the foreseeable future increase emissions by increasing demand for power derived from coal in other states.

“If we’re going to ask New Jersey residents to bear additional costs, the department should at least endeavor to do no harm in that process,” said Andrew McNally, director of government relations for South Jersey Industries, who said carbon emissions could increase 50% in the near term.

Critics said that not only are the electric boilers themselves much more expensive but that operating costs would mean monthly heating bills could triple or quadruple.

“These additional costs will be passed on to the boiler owner’s customers, including apartment building tenants, and in the case of schools already overburdened property taxpayers,” said Paul Sohler, director of engineering for Crown Boiler Company.

Ray Cantor, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said there’s time to allow energy technology to evolve without hastily addressing climate change through mandates such as electric boilers “that have significantly more cost, a shorter useful life and again will result in more carbon emissions.”

The proposal allows for waivers to the rule if installation of an electric boiler isn’t technically feasible – but Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey, said that’s a vague term.

“Anything is technically feasible,” he said. “The only limitation on feasibility of anything is money.”

Eric Miller, director of New Jersey energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the boiler rule is the first major electrification effort by the state and important because buildings are the second-largest source of emissions in New Jersey.

“It will be impossible to meet our climate goals if we do not address the building sector in fast fashion,” Miller said.

Despite concerns about the potential impact on renters, Melissa Miles, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, said the state should go further in requiring even smaller fossil-fuel boilers to be replaced and being stingy with any waivers.

“I would much prefer that young people are not breathing in emissions over the course of 12 years or 13 years while they are in grade school,” Miles said.

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Most of the criticism at the DEP hearing went in the opposite direction, with a steady parade of representatives from – that’s the state’s proposal is insufficient to address a climate emergency and needs to be rewritten to meet the goals set by state law and policy.

“Anything less will be a catastrophic failure of this administration, a stain on their environmental legacy and a crime against humanity,” said Matt Smith, New Jersey state director for Food & Watch Watch.

Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, called the DEP's error "outrageous" and called for the entire Energy Master Plan to be put on pause until its financial impact is calculated.

"This is yet another example of Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s lack of concern for the hardworking middle class of this state," Bucco said.

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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