Last month, the New York Times Magazine published an in-depth look at the increasing flooding problems faced by New Jersey’s coastal cities and towns, and said that the sea level has risen 18 inches in the past century, which is twice as fast as the global average, with incidences of nuisance flooding (which is associated with high tides) more than doubling in the past 20 years.
This followed closely on the heels of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that global warming is accelerating, and “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.” The window of opportunity for decisive action is closing, as the long life of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere means that a certain amount of further warming is already baked into the system. Upon publication of a special report in 2018, IPCC co-chair Debra Roberts said ominously, “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”
Here in New Jersey, the Murphy administration has taken many important steps to reduce the emissions disrupting the climate, including adopting an Energy Master Plan that charts a path to 100% clean energy by 2050. Unfortunately, many of the solutions it aims to put in place, such as offshore wind and electrification of buildings and vehicles, will take years or even decades to fully implement. We also need to be pursuing short-term emissions reductions in order to heed the warnings of climate scientists.
One such short term solution is to immediately stop burning coal for electricity in New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey still has two coal-fired power plants, known as Logan and Chambers. They were built in 1994, and have 30-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) in place with Atlantic City Electric (ACE) that run through 2024. When the plants were built, the PPAs looked like a good deal for ratepayers. But decades of growth in clean energy and efficiency measures, as well as lower than expected gas prices due to the rise of fracking, have caused power prices to stagnate. The power from Logan and Chambers is being sold to ACE customers at well above market rates.
Fortunately, ACE has an opportunity to recoup some of these losses for ratepayers, and help the climate. The company that owns the plants has made an offer to ACE, in which it would:
Retire and decommission the last two coal-fired power plants in New Jersey;
Replace the power owed to ACE under contract with a mix of generation sources available from the regional PJM grid;
Pay ACE $25 million, which would be returned to ratepayers, to account for the lower cost of the replacement power; and
Redevelop the sites to clean energy activities, such as offshore wind manufacturing or solar with storage.
Because coal is the most carbon-intensive fuel, and the electricity from the PJM grid is getting cleaner, the power switch alone would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 4 million tons by 2024, the equivalent emissions of over three-quarters of a million vehicles in a year. That is without considering the climate benefits of repurposing the sites to support clean energy.
Given the climate, consumer and economic benefits of the deal, it is unclear why ACE has not jumped at the opportunity. The utility’s parent company is Exelon, which loves to tout its climate leadership and fleet of low- and zero-emission power plants. In fact, ACE’s own website includes this statement under the heading of “Climate Leadership”: “Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges of our time, and demands that we actively pursue every opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
We couldn’t agree more with that statement. This proposal to shut down the dirtiest remaining power plants in the state is an opportunity for Atlantic City Electric and Exelon to make good on their promises. They should agree to this win-win proposal so that we can move on to some of the more challenging fronts of the climate fight.
Gina Carola, of Haddonfield, is chair of the Sierra Club West Jersey Group and conservation co-chair of the Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter.