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Op-Ed: Hands off the Clean Energy Fund

Calling on Gov. Murphy and lawmakers to halt diversion of money designated for green-energy initiatives

New Jersey’s clean-energy goals are bold, in theory. Making progress and achieving those goals is more important than setting them.

In 1999, New Jersey established the Clean Energy Fund to finance renewable energy investments and transition the state from dirty fossil fuels to clean-energy sources like wind and solar. The fund has made New Jersey a safer, healthier place by promoting energy efficiency, reducing costs and building state-of-the-art energy infrastructure.

The fund has the potential to support even more, but in Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024, $70 million will be moved from it to finance other priorities. Now it’s up to the Legislature to right this wrong and fully invest in clean-energy priorities.

For nearly 15 years, the state hast been diverting money from the fund to plug holes in the state budget — often to pay for investments that have nothing to do with supporting New Jersey’s clean-energy economy. On his gubernatorial campaign trail, Murphy promised to stop this annual practice started under previous administrations. Yet he continues following in his predecessors’ footsteps.

Hundreds of millions of federal clean-energy dollars are flowing into New Jersey, because there is significant need to address the climate crisis here and improve the health and well-being of our diverse communities. It’s time to invest strategically and use the fund for its intended purpose.

It’s not small money

Sustained fund pilfering reduces families’ ability to purchase energy-efficient appliances and heating systems; makes it harder for businesses to retrofit buildings with clean-energy innovations; hurts industries installing solar and offshore wind, and thwarts energy storage.

We’re not talking about a little bit of money: The fund has been raided to the tune of almost $2 billion. More than half of the diversions came under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, but this practice also applied during the administrations of two Democratic governors — Jon Corzine and Murphy.

While Murphy’s spending plan proposes a reduction in the amount of money raided, a raid is still a raid. It must stop. Our health and lives are at stake.

Our company, Nuvo Energy Ventures, is proud to be among more than 30 businesses and business organizations that sent a letter to Murphy and legislative leaders, urging that the state budget proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1 preserve fund dollars for their intended use. Now it’s in the Legislature’s hands.

Sabotaging state goals

The source of the fund is a charge on residential and commercial energy bills, set by the state Board of Public Utilities. The average customer pays a little more than $5 a month on both gas and electric bills.

Either the fund raids end or New Jersey will shortchange and delay its transition to a clean-energy future. We can’t have it both ways.

What makes the raids even more counterproductive is that New Jersey does have an ambitious goal to transition to clean, renewable, affordable energy.

Murphy recently announced a series of new and accelerated targets and commitments, including 100% clean energy by 2035 and 100% of new cars sold in 2035 that produce zero emissions. But reducing fund dollars makes those targets harder to reach. In essence, New Jersey is sabotaging its own goals.

That spells trouble for everyone, including New Jersey businesses. Redirecting critical funding intended for state energy-efficiency programs creates a riskier market for businesses, which can threaten investment decisions and resulting benefits to New Jersey communities. The existing program provides only minimal funding for clean-energy workforce development, a critical part of building the green economy that will serve New Jersey well for generations to come.

It’s time decision-makers finally end these raids and use ratepayer-funded climate dollars to shape a more equitable clean-energy economy.

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