By Steve and Pat Miller • NJ 50 x 30 BE Team
Previously, we have described the concept of “building electrification” (BE) and what is involved in the transition to electrified, or clean, buildings. Here, we talk about recent developments and successes.
Of the three biggest sources of carbon emissions in New Jersey—transportation, electricity generation, and buildings—the buildings sector has lagged in terms of attention paid and emissions reductions achieved. The NJ 50 x 30 BE Team’s goal is to jumpstart the transition to a decarbonized building sector through a combination of building electrification (heating, cooking, and cooling), building efficiency (or weatherization, such as more insulation and elimination of air leaks), and cleaner electricity (i.e., rooftop or community solar or third-party wind or solar supplier).
On May 2, the BE Team wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy requesting several clean energy initiatives, including an aggressive building electrification roadmap by the end of 2022. Subsequently, the BE Team met with several associated NJ agencies to advocate for this roadmap.
On Oct 3, Murphy announced the launch of New Jersey’s statewide Clean Buildings Working Group, a collaboration between the governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy (OCAGE) and the NJ Board of Public Utilities (BPU). The group includes five NJ agencies, plus 18 stakeholders and experts in industry, government, building science, organized labor, environmental justice, and workforce development. They are charged with developing innovative solutions to decarbonize the state’s building sector to help achieve a 100% clean energy economy and reduce statewide emissions by 80% below 2006 levels by 2050. They will also help achieve buy-in from key parties to make the decarbonization solutions the best possible.
OCAGE Executive Director Jane Cohen and BPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso will lead the Working Group. Building decarbonization is a key aspect of the 2019 Energy Master Plan.
Working Group members will bring insight and experience to drive the adoption of energy efficiency improvements and emissions reduction upgrades in buildings—a priority of the Murphy administration’s climate action agenda—while supporting critical repairs for low-to-moderate income housing and expanding opportunities for job growth in green building. The result should be the state’s strategic roadmap to clean buildings, laying out recommendations for policy, legislative, workforce, and funding strategies to create cleaner, greener buildings that support and benefit NJ families and workers.
In September, the BPU announced the launch of the “Whole House” pilot program designed to address health and safety issues in residences in low-income communities in Trenton. New Jersey is the first state in the nation to implement such a program. Whole House refers to a holistic approach to healthy housing—incorporating energy efficiency improvements while remediating health and safety hazards that too often cause efficiency-upgrade work to be deferred or delayed. These hazards include water intrusion, mold, asthma triggers, asbestos, radon, slip-and-fall risks, pests, electrical deficiencies, lead-based paint, lead service lines, and other existing toxins and contaminants. The results of this pilot are expected to provide important input to the Working Group’s solutions as well.
In August, the federal Inflation Reduction Act was passed, and many of its benefits regarding building electrification are already in effect or will be in 2023. The generous tax incentives and discounts that are provided, especially to low-income households and disadvantaged communities, will go a long way toward easing the transition to low-or-no emission buildings. Examples are 30% tax credits on solar systems, energy storage, and EV chargers, plus discounts in the thousands of dollars for heat pump space and water heaters and in the hundreds of dollars for other efficient electric appliances. The discounts include up to $6,500 on breaker box and wiring upgrades. More detailed information for your ZIP code and income are available at bit.ly/3GNsnxA
Silver Lining to Cost Increase
Although the recent rise in the cost of gas for heating and cooking has been painful, the silver lining is electricity prices rise much less and at a slower pace than fossil fuel prices. This is because only about half of New Jersey’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels; the other half is either renewable or nuclear, whose price is relatively stable. Plus, the price of electricity is more highly regulated and is based on a three-year average that is updated only once per year. This means that gas is now about 20% more expensive than electricity. So, switching to electricity saves you money on energy bills, especially if you can pair it with building efficiency measures and onsite or community solar.
The NJ 50 x 30 BE Team is championed by Sierra Club and eagerly welcomes members across New Jersey regardless of their affiliation with Sierra Club or any other organizations. Email the authors at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join.