Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Just what the PSEG 'subsidy' bill needs, more controversy

By Frank Brill
EnviroPolitics Editor

By May 31, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will decide whether to sign, veto, or recommend changes to landmark-but highly controversial-legislation that would provide PSEG with public funding to keep its nuclear facilities operating and competitive against lower-cost natural gas energy.

The issue is complicated and will affect taxpayers, energy competitors, large-businesss energy users and public accountability (since  as the Public Advocate who represents the average Joe and Jane in energy rates issues, has been sidelined by the bill sponsors and has no effective role to play in this matter). The Board of Public Utilities, which some would argue has been a bit too chummy with the energy industry historically, will oversee the funding.  

The environmental component of the controversy is equally sticky. The Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey argue that, in propping up nuclear with public funds, the state will discouage the growth of clean-energy alterntives like wind and solar.  Bill supporters counter-argue that the legislation will keep alive an energy producer that is kinder to the environment, as it does not emit the harmful gases that come along with fracking and its end product.     

National environmental writer David Roberts now weighs in on the issue and, sidestepping the economic and oversight debate, concludes that the legislation is good and necessary for the environment. He writes:

New Jersey’s 2007 Global Warming Response Act set a goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. That simply won’t be possible without almost completely decarbonizing the power sector.
But here’s the problem. The state’s nuclear plants are having trouble competing in energy markets (in part because they are not compensated for their climate-friendly attributes). Their owners — PSEG, which runs the 2.3-GW Salem and 1.2-GW Hope Creek plants, and Exelon Generation, which runs the 636-MW Oyster Creek plant — say that they will be forced to shut the plants down soon absent intervention. 
So New Jersey faces a choice. If its nuclear plants remain open and running, then new renewable energy will replace natural gas. If its nuclear plants close, then new renewable energy will replace nuclear. The former would reduce carbon emissions. The latter would not. (In fact, since renewable energy is unlikely to completely replace the giant gap left by a closed nuclear plant — recent nuclear retirements have mostly prompted more natural gas — it increases them.)  
The only way to reduce power-sector emissions in New Jersey is to have nuclear and renewable energy work together — to keep nuclear plants open as long as possible so that growth in renewables builds on top of them and replaces natural gas.
And that, miracle of miracles, is exactly the course New Jersey has chosen.
Uh oh, just what we need, more controversy, right?

Nonetheless, we found Roberts' essay in Vox to be quite interesting and recommend that you give it a close reading. If you feel strongly one way or the other, we'd love to hear your arguments and hope that Gov. Murphy will, too.

You can contribute them by clicking the tiny 'comments' link at the bottom of this post or you can sound off on our Facebook page

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