Friday, March 30, 2018

In New Jersey, the $300M PSEG nuclear bailout bill is back

By Frank Brill
EnviroPolitics Editor

Three high-profile energy bills--including a $300 million safety net for PSEG's nuclear power operations--will be considered by the New Jersey Assembly's Appropriations Committee when it meets at 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, in Committee Room 11, on the 4th Floor of the State House Annex in Trenton. 

The first bill, A2485, requires the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to approve an amended application for a wind energy project, the Fishermen's Energy wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City. The venture was essentially deep-sixed by the BPU during former Governor Chris Christie's two terms in office. 

A3723 would modify clean energy and energy efficiency programs, including the State's solar renewable energy portfolio standards. Legislators pushing PSEG's controversial request for guaranteed
earnings from its nuclear energy plants in the face of growing competition from less-costly, natural-gas suppliers (see A-3724 below) placed a number of the provisions favored by environmentalists in this bill in hopes of convincing the green community to drop its opposition to the bailout legislation. So far, it hasn't worked.

A3724, far and above the most controversial of the three, establishes a "zero emission certificate program for nuclear power plants." That's the public relations description for giving PSEG--the state's largest utility whose nuclear plants currently generate a tidy profit--up to $300 million in ratepayer money should their earnings go south. Wouldn't all businesses love to count on such public largesse?

The bill is feverishly opposed by large energy users like chemical manufacturers whose operations would suffer a costly hit and, at least in the last headcount, both by environmentalists and by the state's Rate Counsel.
Environmentalists oppose it because they see it delaying or preventing investments in the development of clean-energy solar and wind projects. The state's Rate Counsel wants access to the company's books to prove that the bailout is necessary. PSEG threatens to shut down its nukes if the legislation fails.
If the bill's surface conflicts were not enough, it also is roiled by political subcurrents involving two powerful Democrats --Phil Murphy, the state's new pro-environment governor, and pro-labor Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Sweeney represents the South Jersey district in which PSEG's Salem Nuclear Generating Station and its nuclear employees are located. He tried to slip the bill through the legislature's lame-duck session at the end of 2017 while a supportive Governor Christie, a Republican, was still in office and ready to sign it. Murphy's incoming team rushed in and stalled the bill's momentum. Since then, like two great white sharks, the pair has been warily eyeing each other while circling in and out of sub-surface negotiations and maintaining an almost eerie silence.

The bill has been modified extensively since January and could be changed again by its April 5 hearing date. It should be quite an interesting meeting.

Other voices, pro and con:
Sweeney: Preserving nuclear plants is critical for N.J.
We as consumers can't afford PSEG's nuclear bailout

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