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Recent steps by the state Board of Public Utilities to electrify New Jersey’s building sector have resulted in an extremely contentious debate on whether the state is simply incentivizing residents and businesses to go all electric or mandating it. 

NJBIA Deputy Chief Government Affairs Officer Ray Cantor said the true answer lies in not what’s happening now, but in what will likely happen in the not-so-distant future. 

“Last week, the BPU held two all-day sessions to discuss how to prepare for the eventual elimination of natural gas and the closure of our gas utilities,” Cantor said. “As building electrification is also pursuant to an executive order by the governor, the voluntary argument really isn’t going to hold water over the long term. 

“Whether you call it an incentive or mandate now, the overall agenda is abundantly clear. And if the goals of that agenda are going to be met, it will not be solely met through incentives or volunteering.” 

OVEN ON HIGH HEAT

In late July, the BPU adopted a framework to begin moving residential and commercial buildings away from natural gas through energy efficiency programs.  

Just prior to the vote, BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso angrily responded to criticism from some lawmakers who contended the agency was “coming for your gas stove.” 

“We’re not requiring or mandating anyone to give up their gas stove,” he said. “Enough of the disinformation out there. Stop the lying.” 

Cantor noted, however, that the immediate goal of the electrification plan is to achieve a target of zero-carbon-emission and heating cooling systems in 400,000 homes and 20,000 commercial properties by 2030. And those targets were set by an executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy. 

“This merging of BPU’s energy efficiency programs and building electrification policy is concerning to us because the true costs of building electrification are being hidden,” Cantor said. 

“On top of that, these electrification policies have been set without any legislative input. Leaving out an equal branch of government from a policy that will have such impacts on New Jersey residents, specifically relating to costs and feasibility, makes it clear that this is more directive than choice.” 

FAULTY ELECTRIC APPROACH

Cantor maintains there is nothing wrong with trying to reduce emissions from homes and buildings, but that “a 100% building electrification policy is not the best approach” for multiple reasons.  

“First, there has been no comprehensive planning or investment in either the transmission or generation systems adequate to support a massive building electrification policy.   

“Secondly, there are other, and perhaps less costly and more efficient options, to decarbonize our building sector. Also, electrification is not carbon-free, and in the short term may even result in more carbon emissions.”  

Cantor said it would be “irresponsible” for New Jersey to move ahead with new sources of demand and to “hope that the grid and generation capacities will be there.” 

Cantor added the BPU should consider using New Jersey’s extensive network of gas infrastructure that can be utilized by converting to less carbon intensive fuels such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen.  

“There is no need to rush to electrification,” he said. “While boilers and other equipment may have useful lives for 10 – 20 years or so, the amount of carbon reduction during an early electrification mandate is inconsequential compared to the overall goals. It is better to get it right, than to get it first.”