We've seen some welcome relief at the gas pumps in recent weeks. From the $4.00 per gallon highs in July, South Jersey residents are now seeing prices in the $2.25 per gallon range. However, the energy crisis is long from solved. This intermittent relief was not achieved in a sustainable manner, and we could see prices rise again all too quickly. Our nation still demands a comprehensive energy plan to bring our country to ease the financial strain on consumers and bring us real energy independence.
In June, I unveiled a comprehensive plan that attempts to prevent future generations from experiencing the roller-coaster fuel, home heating and energy costs that Americans continue to deal with today. I said then that we must cast a wide and diverse net. From traveling across South Jersey the past two months, it is clear to me that Washington need only venture up Interstate 95 for the diverse and readily-available solutions this crisis demands. From the alternative sources of wind, solar and nuclear power to biofuels and conservation efforts, South Jersey is stepping up to truly address the critical issue.
Let me be clear: traditional fuel sources such as oil and natural gas production have a critical role in moving our country towards energy independence and must be utilized. There are more than 68 million acres across the U.S. - both on land and off-shore - already leased for oil and natural gas exploration with an estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil possible for extraction each day. We must also give coastal states the option to pursue additional exploration adjacent to their shores, though I still strongly believe New Jersey should not pursue drilling off our beaches. With a $38 billion tourism industry and 500,000 local jobs it creates, the economic cost of a potential spill locally is too significant in my view to justify the risk.
We must also look for every opportunity to increase conservation efforts and to cut down on our individual energy consumption. By encouraging "build green" initiatives such as those being undertaken by the non-profit Ranch Hope in Alloway, we can save money on energy costs while creating new "green jobs" locally in this growing industry. We must also accelerate the timeline for U.S. automobiles to achieve greater miles per gallon as mandated by Congress last year and expand the tax credit for consumers seeking to purchase hybrid vehicles.
And we must aggressively pursue cleaner energies such as solar and wind, which are sustainable and produce no greenhouse gas emissions. The Atlantic County Utility Authority's existing windmill and solar projects is exactly the model we should be following, where five windmills save 11,900 barrels and 2,700 solar cells equal 388 barrels of crude oil annually. I strongly believe the State of New Jersey took a step in the right direction with its recent approval of a massive windfarm project off of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. Similarly, expanding safe nuclear energy production in the model of France and Sweden will alleviate significant pressures currently on our electrical grid.
Likewise, we must refocus our current corn-based ethanol program towards biofuels such as vegetable byproducts, wood-waste and grasses. The simple fact is that one acre of switch-grass yields 11,500 gallons of high-grade ethanol whereas one acre of corn yields 500 gallons of medium-grade ethanol per year. Locally, we can simply look to Woodruff Energy in Bridgeton for their success with commercial biofuels. Additionally, Cumberland County is poised to be the leader in biofuel production in the state. The County will soon have a facility that will create high-grade ethanol out of vegetable juice waste from local farmers.
South Jersey residents know all too well the price of Washington's inaction. Instability in the world's energy supply - and excessive, unregulated speculation in the energies future market - have and will lead to future volatility at the gas pumps. While I have introduced bipartisan legislation to crack down on oil speculators, my action alone will not bring stability and sanity to energy prices. As a nation, we need to have a laser-type focus towards a comprehensive national energy policy and we must act with the urgency this crisis demands.