Bill to help New Jersey’s nuclear plants advances

February 22, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday advanced the latest version of a $300 million rate payer-financed rescue for nuclear plants along with additional renewable energy requirements expected to carry an unknown cost to residents.

A joint Assembly and Senate committee approved the legislation after a roughly four-hour hearing, the latest airing of a bill that goes back at least to December under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

The legislation would offer Public Service Enterprise Group up to $300 million in assistance to keep its nuclear plants open. That would be financed by the state’s utility ratepayers. But it also includes new renewable energy requirements that were added at the last minute, at the request of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

Those changes include a requirement that 35 percent of the electricity supply come from renewable sources by 2035. That would be up from 3 percent currently.

The legislation has the support of PSEG and, crucially, Senate President Steve Sweeney, but there was vocal opposition at the hearing on Thursday.

“I think we’re in a good spot because everyone’s angry,” Sweeney said. “Normally when everyone’s angry you’ve hit a sweet spot.”

Among those opposed are consumer groups like AARP as well as state environmental groups, including the New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel called the renewable energy requirements a “veneer” and said he’s concerned the clean energy would have to come from out of state.

“The only thing green in this bill is the amount of money PSEG is going to make,” he said.

PSEG President Ralph Izzo said the company has a responsibility to shutter the plants if they’re not financially viable. That would carry with it the loss of thousands of jobs and a zero-carbon-emitting energy source.

Republicans opposed the bill or abstained from voting Thursday. GOP state Sen. Anthony Bucco summed up his opposition by saying the cost of the renewable energy components is too murky to win his support.

“I’m concerned what it’s going to cost our ratepayers since no one can put a handle on it,” Bucco said.

The bill is scheduled for a vote in the Democrat-led Senate on Monday.

Update hourly