DAILY RECORD OP-ED: As rising winter heating bills roll in, Murphy dodges on NJ energy plans

By Senator Anthony Bucco – 1/5/23

Even against the backdrop of the highest inflation in a generation, months of financial pain at the gas pump and rising costs for groceries and basic necessities, Gov. Phil Murphy hasn’t relented in pushing New Jersey’s version of the Green New Deal at breakneck speed. Rather than allowing proper legislative oversight of a massive overhaul of our complex energy grid, Murphy is relying on the Trenton bureaucracy to implement new rules in an attempt to skate past the scrutiny such a plan deserves. That needs to change immediately, particularly as rising energy bills hit millions of mailboxes this winter.

Back in August, a long-awaited cost analysis of the governor’s energy plan — after starts, stops and mysterious delays — was finally unveiled nearly three years after the original plan was released.

Murphy’s analysts say his plan will be cheaper than what we have today. That’s laughable. Dianne Solomon, one of New Jersey’s regulators who reviewed the Murphy analysis, said it failed to include the cost of major capital upgrades and the massive taxpayer subsidies involved. Third-party independent experts from Affordable Energy for New Jersey and the Heartland Institute concluded the entire plan will actually cost New Jersey taxpayers, families, and businesses more than $1 trillion to implement in the coming years.

We’ve seen these types of Trenton shell games before, and we know who really gets stuck paying the bill — you and me.

A typo at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection earlier this year is one such example that exposed the true costs. In attempting to implement a new mandate away from natural gas to electric-only commercial boilers in sites like office buildings, retail and schools, the state listed a small cost increase of just 4%, when in actuality it was a 4-5x multiplier of current costs for end users. Imagine a quadrupling of your own energy bill. After months of pressure, the Murphy administration dropped the ridiculous proposal.

Murphy and his allies have already caused big — but predictable — energy rate hikes on families this winter after years of using state resources to block natural gas projects proposed to lower costs. His motivation was clear: to score political points with a small element of his political base, at the expense of everyone else. If you didn’t get your heating bill yet this month — you’ll soon see why.

Despite warning after warning for years from utilities and energy experts about the need for additional natural gas supplies both for affordability and reliability, Murphy’s administration fought and blocked New Jersey’s access to new natural gas and infrastructure upgrades, like the PennEast and Northeast Supply projects. These projects would’ve added more affordable supplies we need.

But now, with the benefit of time, we can see how bills are set to increase by $250 to $300 this winter for the average PSE&G, New Jersey Natural Gas, Elizabethtown Gas and South Jersey Gas customer. Ironically, these cost increases were approved just a month after Murphy’s Energy Plan cost analysis was announced. It will only get worse every year this Energy Plan drags on.

Here’s why:

  • First, demand for natural gas continues to grow, but keeping prices low as New Jersey has been used to is impossible without enough infrastructure to move it, forcing prices higher.
  • Second, despite all the rhetoric, New Jersey is no closer to achieving carbon-free sources of any meaningful scale than the day Murphy took office, with renewables still providing about 5% of our overall energy portfolio.
  • Third, with Trenton mandates forcing more residents and businesses to “electrify their homes” to reduce carbon footprints — these Murphy policies actually increase carbon emissions in New Jersey by using more natural gas to generate the same amount of electricity compared to if natural gas was simply delivered directly to a home or business. That’s because there’s no meaningful amount of renewables in place on the grid yet.

Forcing it too soon, and hoping for positive results, isn’t a wining strategy for an affordable or cleaner New Jersey. We can be pro-climate and pro-affordability by understanding the value natural gas provides to our state.

The fact that my Democratic colleagues have been silent on these topics is shameful. I am asking my legislative colleagues to join me in seeking answers and holding legislative hearings on the true cost of Murphy’s energy tax. These are massive issues with astronomical price tags that will change the entire way our society operates. Let’s get started.

State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, a Republican, represents the 25th District, which includes parts of Morris and Somerset counties.