Why is Mayor Wahler Afraid of Clean Energy?

Voters in Piscataway made history by choosing clean energy at the ballot. The mayor should be working to strengthen this program, not undermine it.


Climate and Energy

In light of recent public statements from Mayor Brian Wahler, it’s time to clear the air on the Piscataway Community Energy Aggregation (PCEA) program.

The PCEA was created by a 2019 referendum, when nearly two thirds of voters in the township approved a public question to create the program. Energy aggregation is a powerful and practical tool that a growing number of local governments are using to clean up air pollution and fight climate change. 

The PCEA empowers the Township to bulk purchase electricity from clean sources like solar and wind, and make it available to residents at discounted rates. A similar program successfully launched in New Brunswick in 2019, and won praise from Governor Phil Murphy.

The Piscataway program provides residents three new electricity supply options to help clean up air pollution and move the needle forward in the race to stop runaway climate catastrophe.  These options are now available to all residents through their existing utility service accounts: 31% renewables, 50% renewables, and 100% renewables (and each is comparably priced to the PSEG’s default supply option that offers only the state minimum of 21% renewables).

Despite the popular mandate from voters, as well as the urgency of our public health and climate crises, Mayor Wahler has consistently put his own political interests before the will and best interests of Piscataway residents. Even before it was approved by voters, Mayor Wahler began issuing a steady barrage of press releases, social media posts and official Township newsletters disparaging it. The latest example is his use of taxpayer-funded resources to issue a press release in an attempt to influence the outcome of similar clean energy initiatives in other New Jersey towns, “cautioning” them against adopting this popular, common sense program. This is not only a misuse of public resources, it’s also a thinly veiled attempt to deflect attention from the mayor’s mismanagement of the PCEA program.

After the referendum there has been a complete lack of transparency about the program implementation, including critical errors the administration made in launching it. To date the township has not held any public meetings on the program, nor have they solicited any public or stakeholder input on how to successfully create and manage it. In fact, Piscataway is one of only a few New Jersey towns without an Environmental Commission or an active Green Team, which are important advisory boards for facilitating public input and participation on critical local issues from energy choices and water quality to responsible development and land preservation.

According to the latest rates from PSEG, participating residents will once again save money with the Piscataway CEA program. Starting June 1, PSEG’s rate is scheduled to jump to 13.2492 cents/kilowatt hour for the first 600 kilowatt hours, and 14.2174 cents per kilowatt hour for all additional electricity supply. Meanwhile, PCEA participants will enjoy a flat rate of 13.19 cents/kilowatt hour for all of their electricity, helping families save hard-earned money during this difficult time. Despite Mayor Wahler’s politicization and attempts to undermine the program, the PCEA remains a win-win for Piscataway pocketbooks and our planet. Any resident who pays an electricity bill can opt in to PCEA by going to PiscatawayCEA.com and clicking “Enroll/Opt In.”

In an apparent attempt to demonstrate his own green credentials, Mayor Wahler recently issued a press release touting a township program to use clean energy for public buildings. This is no doubt an important initiative, but it’s hard to square his support for that while he continues undermining a program to give residents similar access to clean energy. 

If Mayor Wahler wants to be an environmental champion, he must stop undermining the PCEA and focus on successfully implementing it, in addition to tackling other critical issues facing the Township. For example, The American Lung Association recently rated Piscataway an “F” for air quality, and data released earlier this year by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection shows that the majority of the Township is classified as an environmental justice community, which is used to determine where communities of color and low income communities are suffering from a disproportionate burden of pollution. In other words, it’s an indicator of environmental racism.

Unfortunately, the Wahler administration has been making matters worse by granting approvals for politically-connected developers to build large warehouses and trucking depots all over town, including one proposed on state protected wetlands immediately next to Randolphville Elementary School. The administration is clearly not considering the serious health risks posed by diesel truck emissions and truck traffic, especially for the hundreds of young children at Randolphville Elementary whose developing lungs are vulnerable to air-borne pollution when it’s close by, recurring, and concentrated — like diesel trucks lining up next to school playgrounds, drop-off sites and classroom windows.  When challenged on these public health and environmental justice issues, Mayor Wahler has lashed out at local residents and the organizations to which they belong.

Over the past two years Mayor Wahler has consistently claimed that Food & Water Watch is an “outsider” group that couldn’t possibly represent the best interests of Piscataway residents. Here are a few facts about Food & Water Watch. We are a non-profit organization with an office right next door in New Brunswick, the same place we’ve been for over 13 years. We have successfully worked with residents and elected officials across the state on a wide range of environmental and public health issues. We helped lead a years-long fight against a major fossil fuel pipeline through Central Jersey, including a polluting compressor station proposed in Franklin Township. We worked with thousands of residents, over 50 municipal governments, and dozens of state legislators to defeat two dirty power plants proposed in the Meadowlands. We’ve organized successful grassroots campaigns to protect affordable, locally owned, and democratically controlled water in Edison, Franklin Township, Trenton and Atlantic City. Our track record of protecting clean air, affordable public water, and a safe and healthy climate future speaks for itself.

Rather than disparaging local activists and environmental groups, Mayor Wahler should work with those who are ready and eager to help the township address its most urgent public health and environmental justice issues.

While it’s true the PCEA has at times faced short term challenges with pricing due to temporary declines in the PSEG default rate, every other town in New Jersey that has faced similar challenges has been able to meet them head on. Earlier this year, New Brunswick joined a cooperative of towns in Hunterdon and Mercer Counties that will allow the city to continue increasing clean energy access for its residents while delivering cost savings every month. Livingston and Glen Rock joined a similar cooperative of towns in Essex County to nearly double the amount of renewable energy content for their residents, at a price well below the current PSEG rate. There’s no shortage of neighboring towns for Piscataway to partner with to deliver greater savings to residents: Edison, Highland Park, East Brunswick and South Brunswick are all launching similar CEA programs for their residents. Unfortunately, Mayor Wahler and his administration continue to block this kind of common sense collaboration.

Piscataway voters made history by initiating their own ordinance to protect public health and a safe environment by transitioning onto 100% clean energy. In light of all the lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis, we can no longer afford to let politics get in the way of good policies that promote public health and environmental justice for all.