April 29, 2020

Environmental Commission Subcommittee Members Respond to Letters on Energy Program

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Princeton Environmental Commission Subcommittee who worked on the municipality’s renewable energy aggregation program, we would like to respond to Beverly Wilson’s and Al Cavallo’s letters suggesting that participation in Princeton’s Community Renewable Energy (PCRE) program will undermine PSE&G’s finances and contribute to worsened pollution.

As background, the PCRE program’s goal is to provide electricity supply with higher renewable energy content than PSE&G at a lower price and no change to the level of service. The program utilizes Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). A REC represents the environmental attributes, but not the electrons, of 1Mwh of renewable energy on the electric grid. RECs are a widely accepted mechanism that create a market for the positive attributes of clean energy, allowing these assets to be traded efficiently, something otherwise impossible in a region with a unified electrical grid. RECs are strictly regulated to ensure that they reflect the generation of clean energy and that they can only be used once. We use this kind of symbolic “currency” to represent value all the time in our daily lives – stock certificates, deeds, even a $20 bill. RECs are no different. If we reject all such tools of the trade, we will find ourselves in a barter economy. Sustainable Jersey, an organization whose purpose is to promote sustainability and sustainable practices by municipalities, has endorsed the purchase and retirement of RECs as the means of providing enhanced renewable content for energy aggregation programs, recognizing that, while imperfect, it is currently the most feasible mechanism available to municipalities to support the renewable energy market, which in turn supports investment in generation of new clean energy.

Ms. Wilson’s concerns about PSE&G’s profitability are based on a misunderstanding of energy markets in our region. When the decision was made 20 years ago to create competition between energy suppliers, the regulators consciously split the transmission business from the supply business. They also require PSE&G to supply energy to its customers with zero mark-up, so they make no profit at all on the supply side of the business. They have no stake in whether Princetonians purchase electricity from them or a third party supplier – it doesn’t affect their bottom line, or our service, in any way.

Mr. Cavallos’s focus on the Environmental Information Disclosure (EID) statements issued by our provider Constellation New Energy (CNE) and PSE&G is also not pertinent. The CNE disclosure prominently states that their figures reflect the averages for the region as a whole, not the actual composition of their energy portfolio; as such, the EID cannot be used as a basis of comparison with other energy providers. Bottom line, the actual electrons supplied to Princeton households will not change with participation in the program, so no increase in pollution will result from the PCRE initiative.

Implementing a Renewable Government Energy Aggregation Plan was identified as an important goal in Princeton’s Climate Action Plan. Its implementation will help us to achieve our goal of reducing our town’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

David E. Cohen, Princeton Council President

Sophie Glovier, Chair, Princeton Environmental Commission

Heidi Fichtenbaum, Vice Chair, Princeton Environmental Commission

Anne Soos, Member,  Princeton Environmental Commission

Christine Symington, Program Director,  Sustainable Princeton