The most recent iteration of the New Jersey Energy Master Plan (EMP) includes provisions that could boost the development of microgrids in the state.
The draft plan also calls for a microgrid feasibility study to determine if microgrid projects should be expanded.
On June 10, New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) released the 2019 draft EMP. As directed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 28, the plan calls for the conversion of the state’s energy profile to 100% clean energy by 2050.
Currently, New Jersey derives about 5% of its energy from renewable sources, with the rest coming from natural gas and nuclear power.
To reach the governor’s goal, the draft plan proposes seven major “strategies,” including switching to electric cars and charging stations, fast-track support for the development of offshore wind and for solar power resources, converting to electrically heated homes and businesses, maximizing energy efficiency, growing the state’s clean energy innovation economy, providing support for community energy planning for low and moderate income communities, and grid modernization.
Grid modernization central to energy master plan
Regarding Strategy 5 — modernizing the grid — the draft plan says, “Grid modernization will provide the backbone on which all other efforts to transition to a clean energy economy will rely.”
This encompasses the finance and implementation of distribution system upgrades necessary to handle increased electrification and integration of distributed energy resources, including support for bi-directional power flows for applications such as microgrids.
The plan recommends that utilities establish Integrated Distribution Plans (IDPs) within one year to expand and enhance the location and amount of distributed energy and electric vehicles on the distribution system. The goal is to “optimally and most cost effectively” accommodate increased electricity demand that would result from electrification and higher penetration of distributed energy resources.
Calls for non-wires alternatives
In addition, utilities would propose and adopt non-wires solutions (also known as non-wires alternatives) under the plan, encouraging private investments in lieu of expansion or upgrade to the distribution and transmission system. The non-wires solutions could include energy efficiency, demand response, load shifting, microgrids, storage, renewable generation and grid modernization.
The grid modernization effort also focuses on revamping how the state handles transmission by recommending more state control over projects. New Jersey stands out in the PJM Interconnection region, the plan says, as the only state that does not review the necessity of transmission projects. The plan also seeks to exert more authority to review federally set fixed rates of return on transmission projects.
In addition, the plan argues that wider deployment of advanced metering infrastructure is a “foundational component” of a modernized distribution grid. Regulators denied previous utility smart meter proposals because of meter cost and the distribution grid’s lack of sophistication to support the promised benefits of the meters.
Other microgrid efforts
Regarding the microgrid feasibility study, the BPU, in partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, received a $300,000 grant from the US Department of Energy for a microgrid financing study that to produce a financing tool for microgrid developers. The study will inform the final energy master plan and its implementation roadmap.
Last summer, the BPU funded the Town Center Distributed Energy Resource project which called for feasibility studies in 13 municipalities, including the capital of Trenton, to determine if critical facilities can be connected into a microgrid to provide power and essential services in the event of a power outage. The next round of funding for that program will be determined at the end of April.
Separately the BPU is in discussions with the Department of the Treasury to study the feasibility of a Statehouse Complex microgrid project, and whether the Statehouse Complex and Trenton microgrid projects could be combined.
The draft energy master plan moves next to the public hearing stage before it can be adopted. A 1977 law requires the government to regularly update the plan to include both long term goals and interim measures to achieve those objectives. The last update to the master plan was completed in 2015.
The long-term goals of any given energy master plan in New Jersey have proven vulnerable to a change in administrations. In 2011, then-governor Chris Christie (R) scaled back the renewable energy targets set by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.
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