Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Is NJ facing an expanded nuclear future?

It's starting to look that way.

The (Newark) Star-Ledger reported yesterday that it had obtained a copy of the state's much anticipated Energy Master Plan revision. That document apparently concludes that:

"the greenhouse gas (reduction) mandates point toward nuclear energy to produce carbon-free electricity at a lower price per megawatt-hour than fossil-fueled plants."

This shouldn't come as shocking news , since the state's largest energy company, Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), and a pro-nuclear advocacy group, the NJ Affordable, Clean, Reliable Energy Coalition have been saying the same thing at every chance.

No amount of energy conservation and investment in alternative production technologies, like solar and wind, will provide enough new energy to keep pace with increasing consumer demand, they say.

The Star-Ledger story notes that PSEG is considering building a nuclear unit in Salem County, where it already has three nuclear stations. A state energy policy that makes a case for additional nuclear generation would be a major plus in helping the company overcome expected opposition from environmental groups and to attract support from the financial community.

PSEG surprised some observers last year when it broke ranks with other state utilities and provided an early endorsement for Governor Jon Corzine's call for a 20 percent reduction in energy use in New Jersey by 2020 and a 20 percent shift in total power supplies to renewable sources like solar and wind.

In recent months, PSEG has announced plans for an ambitious program designed to help customers install energy-conservation measures and equipment. More recently, it filed an application seeking state approval to construct a major offshore wind park.

Are those announcements proof of a solid commitment to energy conservation and to alternative energy or simply smart public relations moves designed to provide environmental cover while the company pursues it primary objective --gaining state approval for a new nuclear plant?

It's too early to say, but a recent development caused both the state Board of Public Utilities and the Office of the Public Advocate to raise questions.

Both are objecting to the company's plan to disconnect its power plant in Bergen County from the regional power grid that serves New Jersey and to sell the plant's electricity, instead, to energy-starved New York.

In a March 11 story, the Star-Ledger reported that...

"Both the BPU and Public Advocate's rate counsel have intervened in the case, which is pending before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The case, although involving a relatively small power plant in the regional power grid, could have huge implications by setting a precedent in disputes centering around importing and exporting of electricity. "
At the very least, we think it raises another question.

If New Jersey's growing energy needs are so voracious that they mandate the construction of a new nuclear reactor, why is the state's largest electric utility making deals to sell off a chunk of that precious supply to a neighboring state?

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