State Spotlight: New Jersey

William Greenbaum
October 24, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2012

Fig. 1: Development of electricity generation between 1990 and 2011. Data from New Jersey Energy Master Plan [1].

This article sets out to summarize the history, status quo, and future of New Jersey's power for those curious about where NJ's electricity comes from.

Born and raised in New Jersey, I've come to love the state despite its less-than-perfect public image. Especially after Saturday Night Live skits and its portrayal in The Jersey Shore, the Garden State has acquired a national reputation as a dump. Yet in high school, I learned that New Jersey's energy profile is relatively clean and that the state is one of the major breeders of solar PV companies as well. In what I hope will become a model for students in the future, I trudged through fact sheets and energy plans to compile a cross-section of New Jersey's electricity portfolio. You may be surprised by what I found.


While New Jersey may not be the cleanest state, its reputation does not extend in the electricity grid. The state gets half of its electricity from nuclear power and more than a third from natural gas. The combination of these sources produces comparatively little pollution, making NJ one of the cleanest states in the US energy wise. Unfortunately, the state faces the loss of clean, carbon-free electricity when the Oyster Creek nuclear plant closes in 2019. To replace the plant and stay on track for 70% carbon-free energy by 2050, the state must invest in natural gas, solar, wind, or nuclear power in the next ten years.


New Jersey uses more electricity than it generates. In 2009, NJ imported roughly one fourth of its electricity to meet demands. [1] In addition, recent estimates predict an annual increase in demand of 1.6% amounting at roughly 1 GWh/yr. [1] NJ also faces high electricity prices, with average residential rates above $0.16/kWh. [1] Thus, governor Chris Christie sets forth in his 2011 Energy Master Plan the goal to expand in-state generation and lower the average cost of electricity. [1]


NJ's electricity portfolio turns out to be comparatively clean in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, with the vast majority of its electricity coming from natural gas and nuclear energy. Back in 1990, more than half of the electricity generated in NJ came from nuclear power as shown in Fig. 1. The rest consisted of approximately 20% coal, 20% natural gas, 5% oil, and some other sources (renewable energy generation and hydroelectric sources). [1]

Twenty years later, NJ has maintained its reliance on nuclear power and heavily invested in cleaner natural gas. The coal portion of generation is now below 10% and expected to drop as older coal plants are closed and oil generation is virtually negligible. While renewable sources have increased in total MWh generated, they still make up only 1-2% of the total portfolio. [1]

Fig. 2: Development of electricity capacity from 1990 to 2010. Data from New Jersey Energy Master Plan [1].

NJ's joule generation shows the importance of nuclear energy in the state, but a look at generation capacity in Fig. 2 paints a different picture. While nuclear sources were responsible for over 50% of generation back in 1990, nuclear power only made up one fourth of the in-state capacity. Natural gas comprised a third, oil another quarter, and coal about one tenth. [1]

Most likely due to rising oil prices, NJ has eliminated diesel fuel as a major electricity source, relying on it now only as a back up when gas demand is strained by cold weather. [1] NJ's four nuclear plants remain; meanwhile, natural gas has climbed to the top of NJ's capacity with 56.6% of NJ's potential power in 2011. Interestingly, nuclear power still generated more than half, 52%, of NJ's in-state supply, in spite of the 24% share of in-state capacity. This reflects a heavy build-up of natural gas generation capacity.

The State's Largest Source: Nuclear

There are four reactors at two sites in NJ. Oyster Creek, the oldest operating plant in the US, was commissioned in 1969. [1] Over the next twenty years, three more reactors came online in Lower Alloways Creek, NJ. Despite the larger gas capacity, these four reactors have been running at near maximum capacity to produce most of NJ's baseload. [1] Nuclear power remains a preferred power source in NJ despite its political troubles. The 2011 Energy Master Plan states, "[n]uclear power, if constructed and operated safely, can be a longterm cost-effective hedge against fossil fuel price volatility, while providing thousands of jobs." [1] The technology provides virtually carbon-free electricity with strong support for the economy. As a result, NJ will be relying on nuclear power for decades to come, evidenced by the 20-year license extensions approved by the NRC for all four reactors. The newest reactor, Hope Creek, is licensed until 2046.


With a GDP steadily growing at 1.4%, NJ is struggling to keep up with its growing demand for energy. Adding to this problem is the early retirement of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in 2019, which is responsible for about 4% of the in-state generation. The state has a couple options on the table, the favorites being a new nuclear plant, more renewable energy, more natural gas, or importing electricity from other states. Really, the only option not being considered is coal. The Energy Master Plan clearly explains, "Coal is a major source of CO2 emissions and will no longer be accepted as a new source of power in the state… New Jersey will work to shut down older, dirtier peaker and intermediate plants with high greenhouse gas emissions." [1] The natural replacement for coal plants is gas, particularly with combined cycle generation. Nonetheless, gas is a carbon-based fuel, and NJ has set a goal of 70% carbon-free energy by 2050. [1]

Renewable energy has surprisingly high potential despite its current weak position in the grid. NJ has quality, harvestable, offshore wind, and the state hosts the second largest solar industry in the country. Believe it or not, California is the only state that boasts more projects and more MW capacity of solar PV than NJ. [1] State programs such as the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program have spurred nearly 100% growth in NJ's installed PV capacity for the past two years. [1] Renewable energy sources have many grid, reliability, and cost challenges associated with them, so nuclear power, the other carbon-free alternative, is a strong candidate for future power. The NRC recently granted two licenses for new plant construction for the first time over 30 years. Furthermore, current Governor Chris Christie has "supported" nuclear power, a position reflected by his Energy Plan:

"New Jersey should remain committed to the objective assessment of how nuclear power fits into the diversified resource mix to meet economic, reliability and environmental goals. To that end, New Jersey should continue its coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding the steps needed to accelerate a federal solution to the problem of storing radioactive waste." [1]

As noted, nuclear power has its own unsolved problems. Thus, the state has also considered the less favorable option to import more electricity if a replacement for the Oyster Creek plant cannot be found soon.

© William Greenbaum. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. Christie, K. Guadagno and L. Solomon, "2011 New Jersey Energy Master Plan," State of New Jersey, 6 Dec 11.