A draft update to New Jersey’s 2011 Energy Master Plan (EMP) credits natural gas with helping to drive down the state’s energy costs.

New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) put the draft update to the EMP out for public comment Nov. 20. The updated EMP, which also touches on state initiatives to develop renewable energy and increase energy efficiency, highlights low-cost natural gas as a key driver of recent progress towards achieving some of the state’s long-term objectives.

New Jersey’s average natural gas costs for ratepayers went from 17th-highest in the nation in 2011 to 46th-highest in 2015, according to the updated EMP, which cites data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Likewise, the EMP points to a decline in electricity costs for New Jersey consumers, from fourth-highest to 10th-highest in the nation.

“The State’s commitment to actively promote new electric natural gas generation and the enhancement and expansion of the natural gas transmission and distribution system, has helped to reduce energy costs,” the updated EMP said. “Over the past several years, more than $1 billion in new and upgraded natural gas distribution infrastructure has been added in New Jersey. This has helped to moderate New Jersey prices overall and has the potential to increase economic development in the State.”

According to the EMP, New Jersey will see more than 2 GW of new capacity from combined cycle natural gas generating units come online in 2015-2016, with the “newer, more efficient generation” helping to “maintain lower wholesale prices for electricity, reduce emissions, and maximize integration of variable intermittent power produced by renewable energy sources.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration set out to increase the state’s use of natural gas for electricity production when it unveiled the 2011 EMP (see Daily GPI, June 8).

The 2015 update “shows that Governor Christie’s strategies in the 2011 State Energy Master Plan are producing strong results and moving the state towards the goal of reducing energy costs,” BPU President Richard Mroz said.

“This update also reflects New Jersey’s national leadership in reducing emissions from power plants,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The 2011 Energy Master Plan helped accelerate New Jersey’s transition to cleaner-burning, less expensive natural gas. As a result, New Jersey’s sulfur dioxide emissions are amongst the three lowest in the nation and nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions are amongst the six lowest in the nation.”

While it has increased its use of natural gas in recent years, New Jersey currently gets about half of its electricity from nuclear.

State officials will be accepting comments on the draft updates to the EMP through Friday.