Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Vote in NJ this week on revised PSEG nuclear bailout

Intended to prop up PSEG nuclear plants, measure has gone through drastic revisions without gaining traction with legislators

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:

The Legislature will try to advance a controversial nuclear subsidy bill again this week — at least the fourth version of the measure drafted this year.

Designed primarily to prop up nuclear power plants operated by Public Service Enterprise Group, the legislation has gone through drastic revisions in a bid to win enough backing among lawmakers to win legislative passage. So far, it has not worked.

Many of the changes are aimed at addressing concerns raised by Gov. Phil Murphy, who wants the measure to focus more heavily on promoting his clean-energy agenda. In doing so, however, it bolstered critics' fears that costs to utility customers — who will subsidize those efforts and pay to keep the nuclear units open — will soar.

The nuclear subsidies alone could cost $300 million annually, excluding what ratepayers may have to ante up to pay for solar and energy-efficiency projects, other goals espoused in the bill.

Ramping up rates
"What we end up with may be a $5 billion or $8 billion bill,'' said Stefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, Friday morning at a conference on nuclear energy before the latest version became public. "This is going to substantially increase rates.''

The legislation ramps up the state's reliance on renewable energy. It will require 35 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources, such as solar and offshore wind, by 2025 and 50 percent renewables by 2030.

The new legislation, made public late Friday afternoon, will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Senate Budget and Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee on Thursday. There also is a similar, but not identical, version in the Assembly on the agenda.

The new bill appears to leave much of the nuclear provisions untouched. It establishes a zero-emission credit for eligible nuclear units and retains a $0.004 per kilowatt hour charge for the credits. The credits would, for the first time, value the environmental benefits of the carbon-free electricity produced by nuclear power, which supplies more than 40 percent of the state's electricity.

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