The Christie Administration’s new Energy Master Plan (“Plan”), a blueprint for how New Jersey produces, uses and conserves energy, has attracted plenty of attention, with supporters and critics alike wondering (worrying) about the cost of electric and gas for businesses and homes, the future of the solar industry and whether another nuclear plant will be built.

My advice: take a deep breath. However important it may be for signaling the intent of the Christie Administration, the Energy Master Plan is only a plan and a draft plan at that. Its recommendations and policy directions will be tested during the summer at three public hearings. More important, implementation of the recommendations will require, in most cases, further formal action by the Department of Environmental Protection or the Legislature. That is not to diminish the Plan’s significance, but there are many steps along the way to adoption of a final plan and implementation of its recommendations.

Those recommendations fall under five main headings.

1) Promote a diverse portfolio of new, clean, in-state generation. This includes supporting construction of 2,000 or more MW of combined-cycle natural gas-fired generation, assessing the possibility of a new nuclear plant; expanding the use of distributed generation and combined heat and power (cogeneration); supporting behind-the-meter solar and promoting biomass and waste-to-energy generation; and expanding the natural gas pipeline system. The Plan pointedly opposes new coal-fired generation.

2) Create a “realistic path” to achieve the (statutory) Renewable Portfolio Standard of 22.5% of energy from renewable sources by 2021. The Plan rejects the RPS goal of 30% by 2020 that was in Governor Corzine’s 2008 Energy Master Plan. (Governor Christie characterized that goal as “pie in the sky.”)

The new Plan continues to support green energy, although it wears a green eyeshade when looking at solar. The Christie Administration will give priority to behind-the-meter, commercial and industrial solar that produces both an environmental benefit and an economic benefit to the host business and will reduce the business’s operating costs. The Plan notes that this “dual benefit” is not provided by subsidizing either residential or grid-connected solar.

Similarly, the Plan supports solar generation on landfills and other brownfield sites that cannot otherwise be developed for commercial or residential purposes, but not on productive farms and particularly not on preserved farmland.

The Plan underlines the Administration’s continuing support for the construction of offshore wind facilities.

3) Reward energy efficiency, energy conservation and cost-effective renewables. The Administration will take steps to reduce demand and improve the energy efficiency of State buildings, where the cost savings will pay for the capital improvements. Look for continuing updates to the energy subcode of New Jersey’s Uniform Construction Code.

The Christie Administration is looking to reduce, if not eliminate, direct grants and subsidies for renewables and energy efficiency programs, as well as for low-income energy assistance. In order to do this, the Board of Public Utilities will explore options to provide these programs as cost-effectively as possible, including creating an “energy efficiency utility” and replacing the Societal Benefits Charge with a revolving loan fund.

4) Capitalize on emerging technologies for transportation and power production. This Plan, like all its predecessors, is light on transportation initiatives, although it does nod in the direction of natural gas-fueled vehicles. The Plan indicates the Administration’s hope, if not economic support, for fuel cells, energy storage, and smart grids and smart meters.

5) Encourage economic development and job growth. This does not appear as a separate section but is woven throughout the document. There is an unmistakable emphasis on reducing the cost of energy for all ratepayers and supporting conventional and renewable generation that creates new energy jobs and reduces costs for host businesses.

There are three hearings for the public to comment on the draft Energy Master Plan: July 26 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark; August 3 at the State House Annex in Trenton; and August 11 at Stockton State College in Pomona. All hearings are scheduled to run from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.