New Jersey Lawmakers Finally Pass Nuclear Subsidy Bill

A nuclear power plant.

A nuclear power plant. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty Images

After months of behind-the-scenes lobbying, multiple marathon hearings and several revisions to the legislation, New Jersey lawmakers finally approved a controversial bill on Thursday to bail out the state’s nuclear power plants.

The bill (S2313/A3724) cleared the state Senate by a 29 to 7 vote and passed the Assembly 60 to 10 with one abstention. It now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

The measure would effectively impose a surcharge on ratepayers to prop up nuclear power plants owned by Public Service Electric & Gas—the state’s largest energy company—if a state board determines the plants need financial assistance. A typical household could see energy bills rise roughly $41 per year to cover the cost of the estimated $300 million subsidy, officials have said.

PSEG has threatened to shut down its Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants if it doesn’t get the ratepayer subsidies, claiming the plants won’t be profitable within two years because cheap natural gas is driving down energy prices. Closing the plants could cost roughly 1,600 jobs, proponents of the bill say.

The nuclear bailout bill has been a hotly debated issue since December, when legislation was first introduced and then shelved during the waning days of the lame duck legislature. Committee hearings on the subsidies have surpassed three hours, and other iterations of the bill have been unveiled and later pulled.

The latest version of the legislation is linked to two companion bills subsidizing solar power and offshore wind. The ratepayer cost for those measures is unclear.

One bill (S2314/A3723) gradually increases the state’s reliance on renewable energy, with a goal of having half of the state’s electricity come from renewables by 2030.The other measure (S1217/A2485) promotes an offshore wind energy project off Atlantic City. Both bills passed both houses of the legislature on Thursday.

Opponents of the nuke bill have argued PSEG has failed to prove the plants’ finances will be in such dire shape in the near future. In February, the energy company reported a 77 percent increase in its net income from last year over 2016, despite the struggles facing its nuclear plants.

“Delivering hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars to a profitable corporation is not sensible energy policy, it is extortion,” Lena Smith, of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, said in a statement Wednesday ahead of the votes.

Under the bill, nuclear power plants would have to provide financial data to the state Board of Public Utilities, which would determine whether the plants qualify for subsidies. That financial information could be submitted confidentially.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press in January showed PSEG lobbyists worked with former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to craft the legislation to hide the company’s financial information from the public.

Michael Jennings, a PSEG spokesman, said “it was made clear that the financial problems facing the plants are real” during the public debate over the bill. He noted nuclear produces roughly 40 percent of the state’s electricity needs and said economists predict energy prices would jump $400 million per year if the nuclear plants closed.

“This legislation is a sensible solution that protects the viability of nuclear energy and its benefits for New Jersey, while at the same time ensuring consumers are protected, as well,” Jennings said.

New Jersey Lawmakers Finally Pass Nuclear Subsidy Bill