New Jersey Senate Shelves Vote on Nuclear Subsidy Bill

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said lawmakers are still making adjustments to the controversial legislation.

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

A controversial bill that could force New Jersey ratepayers to bail out the state’s nuclear power plants hit a snag on Monday as the Senate shelved a vote on the legislation.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said lawmakers are still making adjustments to the legislation, which has already gone under several revisions. Sweeney said the Senate could vote on the bill next month.

“It’s a big bill. It’s a complicated bill. And we’re going to continue to press forward,” Sweeney said. “Like everything else, we’re adjusting things and look forward to getting it passed.”

In its current form, the bill (S877) would effectively impose a surcharge on ratepayers to prop up nuclear power plants owned by PSEG—the state’s largest energy company—if a state board determines the plants need financial assistance. A typical household could see energy bills rise $31 to $41 per year to cover the cost of the estimated $300 million subsidy, officials have said.

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 bill have surpassed three hours, and the legislation has since been amended to include clean energy initiatives promoting solar power and offshore wind. But those additions haven’t made the bill more palatable for the environmental groups that have opposed the potential nuclear subsidy.

“We’re glad the bill was held because, in its current form, it undermines the Garden State’s clean energy future and the good jobs that go with it,” Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

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. Proponents of the subsidy bill say closing the plants could cost roughly 1,600 jobs and could harm the environment, since the state would rely more on other energy sources that emit carbon dioxide.

“It’s a complicated bill, legislators are working to resolve stakeholders concerns,” PSEG spokesman Michael Jennings said in a statement on Monday. “We remain confident that those issues will be resolved and the legislature will approve a comprehensive clean energy bill.”

Opponents of the bill say PSEG has failed to prove the plants’ finances will be in such dire shape in the near future. 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 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.

On Friday, the energy company reported a 77 percent increase in its net income from last year over 2016, despite the struggles facing its nuclear plants.

The total cost of the subsidy bill is unclear.

Stefanie Brand, the director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, has said the nuclear and solar components could cost $3.4 billion over the next decade.

“This bill is massive, and with each iteration, it gets worse,” Brand testified on Thursday during a joint meeting of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Telecommunications Committee. “It will add huge costs to the monthly bills of the customers you represent.” New Jersey Senate Shelves Vote on Nuclear Subsidy Bill