More than 100 world leaders gathered in Paris this week to develop an international accord for tackling climate change.
These talks must set the stage for action. Anything less would disappoint the hopes of millions of people around the world and fail to meet our obligations to those who will come after us.
So, what’s the way forward? Certainly, renewable energy from the sun, wind and other sources is an important part of the solution. We’ve been working to do our part: PSE&G is fifth nationwide in cumulative solar megawatts, exceeded only by utilities in California and Arizona, where it’s much sunnier. Our solar farms provide green energy to all of our customers.
Yet while the spectacular growth of renewable energy makes headlines, we can’t afford to overlook the benefits of other, perhaps less glamorous ways to make progress. These solutions may not be as obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less important if our goal is to improve the environment – and at the same time, boost the economy and keep energy affordable. Let me touch on three key steps, which I believe remain indispensable.
First, we can’t afford to lose sight of the clean air benefits of safe, reliable nuclear energy. Today, as in recent decades, nuclear power plants provide nearly one-fifth of America’s electricity – generating clean energy around the clock and throughout the year – not just when it’s sunny or windy. In New Jersey, nuclear power has long been a vital resource, providing about half of the state’s electricity, supporting thousands of jobs directly or indirectly, and anchoring the local and regional economy. We’ve continued to invest in our nuclear facilities as a linchpin of prosperity in a carbon-constrained world.
Second, we need to continue making conventional energy sources cleaner and more efficient. We’ve invested in technology that dramatically reduces mercury, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions at coal plants; and shifted to the greater use of comparatively green natural gas (which also has the advantage of being an increasingly plentiful, low-cost domestic resource). In addition, we’re modernizing our gas delivery system in ways that will enhance safety and reliability and further reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Moreover, due to lower cost gas, our customers are saving hundreds of dollars on their gas bills even as we invest to make our infrastructure more reliable and resilient.
Third, which can’t be stressed enough, we must build an energy system based on using less. When our customers save energy, it not only helps the environment but also protects their pocketbooks. Yet too many energy-saving opportunities are being passed up today. Energy efficiency will be most powerful when there is universal participation – with everyone taking advantage of newer devices and appliances that can lower energy costs and usage. Utilities can be critical in making this happen and doing so in the least-cost manner.
Not every step toward a low carbon, energy efficient future will happen at once, so we must continue to tap into our nation’s tremendous capacity to innovate. The next big wave of environmental improvements could be just over the horizon – for instance, as transportation is increasingly electrified and new advances are made in energy storage or other areas. The possibilities are limitless.
One thing is certain: Climate change shouldn’t be thought of simply as a huge challenge, but as an unmatched opportunity to grow the economy and create new jobs while protecting the environment for future generations. It’s a challenge we embrace, with our eyes not only on the talks now going on in Paris, but with a view to the long-term benefits that can be had from actions here at home.