April 29, 2020

Renewable Energy Program a “Step Forward” for the Princeton Community

To the Editor:

The Princeton Community Renewable Energy (PCRE) program sends a clear message that our community has a preference for renewable energy sources in our region. Princeton joins the ranks of cities like San Francisco to lead the transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable energy through this community energy aggregation program. Similar programs are also employed by Sierra Club Ready for 100 cities to achieve their renewable energy goals.

The PCRE program was identified as a priority by the Energy Working Group of the Princeton Climate Action Plan — a plan that drew on the expertise of over 50 community members and topic experts. The development of this program was overseen by a task force including members from the Princeton Council, Environmental Commission, and Sustainable Princeton and was informed by community members with years of experience in the electricity markets.

We want to address some of the concerns expressed about this program. Electricity markets are complex and no single tool will accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. The PCRE program benefits our environment by encouraging investment in more renewable energy supply.

Regardless of who one designates as a power purchaser, all electricity supplied to Princeton homes comes from the same pool of regional electrons. The claim that electricity provided by Constellation through the PCRE program is “dirtier” than PSE&G’s is erroneous. An analogy is buying Fair Trade coffee. Once Fair Trade has certified that coffee, it doesn’t matter if it was bought at Whole Foods or a gas station mini-mart, it’s still Fair Trade, no matter what else that retailer sells. And the more people buy Fair Trade coffee; the more farmers get a fair price for their crop.

Through this program, we are purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to support environmentally responsible energy sources. For the base PCRE program, RECs will be purchased for 50% of our community’s electricity usage. RECs are the industry-standard means to assign a financial value to the environmental benefits of clean energy production. This tool provides NJ communities with the opportunity to support the development of renewable energy generation.

Some have expressed concern about the financial impact of this program on PSE&G.

The utility PSE&G does not own power plants and does not generate electricity; they purchase power in the same way as PCRE. PSE&G is required by law to pass the cost of its energy supply directly to customers without a mark-up. Power generation is a separate business from delivery. By law, PSE&G sets the fees for this service to ensure they cover customer services such as meter readings, billing, and service restoration. This program will not affect the power delivery service received from PSE&G.

The bottom line: This action by Princeton stimulates a green economy and, therefore, green jobs, and accelerates the installation of renewable energy infrastructure faster than would otherwise happen. It is a step forward for the community but not the only step we need to take. Sustainable Princeton continues to explore additional ways to encourage the development of renewable energy sources.

Those residents who are able to opt-up and increase the number of RECs purchased to cover 100% of their energy usage will help accelerate the regional transition to a pollution-free energy infrastructure even faster.

Board of Trustees
Sustainable Princeton