HOPEWELL: Carbon tax would provide incentive to increase renewables

To the editor: 
“Residents do agree on energy policy” by Michele Byers (Nov. 12) provides encouraging news: Most New Jersey residents believe renewable energy sources are important and are in favor of the state investing more in solar and wind energy.
But it is naive to think that belief in renewables, even if accompanied by significant investment in these energy sources, will stop the burning of fossil fuels. Mandates that an increasing share of our electricity be produced from renewables won’t end fossil fuel combustion either.
Despite the recent rapid growth of solar and wind energy, consumption of fossil fuels is growing. And, until the technology to store electricity from intermittent sources improves, it is likely that more solar and wind power will lead to more natural gas combustion, not less.
Gas plants can be ramped up to supply power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing more quickly than can coal or nuclear plants. Further, cars and trucks, which in New Jersey account for about 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, are still hugely dependent on petroleum.
What’s needed is a strategy that directly reduces the incentive to burn fossil fuels. An ideal approach is a revenue-neutral, steadily increasing fee on carbon. Suppliers of coal, petroleum, and natural gas would pay a steadily increasing fee based on the carbon content of that fuel, and the fee money would be returned to households. Households could use these rebates to make their own best choices about their energy purchases.
Since it would place a steadily rising fee on carbon, a carbon fee and rebate would encourage energy efficiency and low- and zero-carbon energy sources. Since the fees collected would be funneled directly back to the economy, this would not be a tax in the traditional sense.
Studies have shown that this approach could significantly cut carbon emissions that cause global warming without costing jobs. 
Mike Aucott, Ph.D. 
Pennington 
Editor’s note: The writer describes himself as a retired research scientist for the state Department of Environmental Protection, a former chairman of the Hopewell Township Planning Board, a current member of township Environmental Commission, and an adjunct professor of chemistry at The College of New Jersey. 