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Report: New Jersey losing ground on energy efficiency

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Purported raids of the state's clean energy fund and unclear policy goals have left New Jersey lagging behind neighboring states in energy efficiency, a regional advocacy group contends in a new report.

The study by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships says the state was an early leader in energy efficiency, but has "suffered greatly" over the past two years, preventing New Jersey from realizing the level of savings called for in earlier energy master plans. The group also cites concerns like the pending shift of the Office of Clean Energy duties, currently overseen by the Board of Public Utilities, to a third-party administrator.

A BPU representative did not immediately return a request for comment.

The second annual report by the Lexington, Mass.-based organization groups New Jersey with states like New Hampshire, Maine and Pennsylvania, where "anti-regulatory interests threaten states' efforts to harness efficiency as the most cost-effective energy resource." Conversely, in states like Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, "major efficiency commitments are helping to drive down utility costs for all, as states build the clean-energy economy and make progress on their emissions reductions goals."

New Jersey officials' use of clean energy funds to plug state budget shortfalls has been a frequent target of critics and efficiency advocates. Last year, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to take another $279 million from the fund to help balance the budget.

"This report confirms the trend we've seen over the past few years here: New Jersey has gone from clean energy hero to zero," New Jersey Policy Perspective spokesman Jon Whiten said in an e-mail. "New Jerseyans are increasingly seeing the negative consequences of climate change, an enormous problem whose solution requires government action on multiple fronts."

Whiten added that New Jersey is using clean energy funds "as a political football to shore up state budgets built on increasingly shaky foundations," rather than energy-related jobs.

State officials in recent months have again discussed reducing New Jersey's clean energy fund budget, which is generated by surcharges on utility bills. The fund is supposed to support incentives like energy efficiency rebates and green job training.

All told, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships report gives New Jersey a grade of "struggling," while determining that states like New York and Connecticut are "going the distance" with its energy policy. The group urged the state to rebuild with an eye toward energy efficiency as it recovers from Hurricane Sandy.

The organization, however, also credited New Jersey for preparing to adopt standards known as the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code.

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