Give Chris Christie a little credit; the governor of New Jersey might not be Jerry Brown-like in his enthusiasm for solar power, but for a Republican – especially one who might someday have presidential aspirations – he’s doing OK.
Just last week Christie signed into law a bill that boosts the amount of energy New Jersey utilities are required to get from renewables in the short term, a move that should shore up a renewable energy credit market that’s been sagging, and keep the state’s strong solar development rolling along.
Then this week, there was the governor, very publicly supporting an $883 million Public Service Electric and Gas initiative to develop 233 megawatts of solar capacity in New Jersey.
PSEG announced the move, which will need approval from the state’s Board of Public Utilities, at the site of another in a series of projects that are turning landfills and brownfields into solar projects. Christie was there, grabbing the solar spotlight, with PSEG head man Ralph Izzo.
The 1.06-MW PSE&G Hackensack Solar Farm is part of the utility’s Solar 4 All program. When Hackensack goes into service later this year, PSE&G said,”the utility will have reclaimed more than 40 acres or about 30 football fields of vacant brownfield and landfill space, populating those sites with more than 40,000 solar panels that will produce more than 10 MWs of solar power.”
The goal in expanding the initiative is to jack that amount up to 90 MW, while also adding 20 MW of solar on warehouse roofs (where New Jersey is a real leader) and 25 MW on large parking lots.
“Governor Christie deserves recognition for his forceful support of developing green energy projects on these sites, which benefit the state’s economy and environment, as well as the communities where these properties are located,” Rizzo said in a statement.
Now it’s true that Christie has pulled back from the state’s longer-term, 2020 renewables standard of 30 percent, watering it down to 22.4 percent. And he’s withdrawn the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Northeast’s version of cap-and-trade. And he’s used hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s Clean Energy Fund to close budget gaps.
All of this has understandably earned him the ire of solar advocates, who characterize his signing the new solar bill as the only thing he could do to clean up a mess he’s created. But remember, this is a Republican we’re talking about. Post-Solyndra, for many in the GOP, solar is the devil’s work. As Fox News commentator Juan Williams wrote, Republicans “are so obsessed with discrediting the president that they are condemning the entire solar industry and making themselves into villains.”
Casting solar as part of the grand Obama socialist scheme might fly with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, and no doubt Gov. Christie has at times been tempted by that rhetoric. But, wily politician that he is, he also seems to see a bigger picture, and the bigger picture is that people like solar. In a Gallup Poll earlier this year, 69 percent of U.S. adults supported “spending government money on developing solar and wind power.” Support was lower among Republicans, but even there a majority, 51 percent, were behind taxpayer money going to expand solar power.
When he signed the solar bill last week, Christie said some things you won’t hear many other Republicans say between now and November. “The solar industry in New Jersey has created thousands of jobs,” he said. It has “generated 800 megawatts of clean energy and helped businesses thrive and grow,” he declared. And he doubled down on that talk this week, vowing that his administration will “continue moving forward with our commitment to develop renewable sources of energy.”
That’s good not only for the solar industry in New Jersey – which, as Climate Progress recently noted, supports some 3,000 jobs and 500 businesses in the state – but it could be good for the rest of the country by giving lie to the idea that solar power in particular is a partisan, political issue. That might be Chris Christie’s greatest contribution.