Energy

New Jersey Steps In To Keep Nuclear Power Plants From Closing

In an expensive bid to keep nuclear energy alive, New Jersey legislators passed a massive subsidies bill to keep several reactors in the state up and running for the foreseeable future.

The New Jersey state Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed S-2313/A-3724 on Thursday — legislation calling for a $300 million annual subsidy to keep three nuclear reactors from closing down. New Jersey power company Public Service Enterprise Group own and operate the three reactors — two located in a Salem plant and another at Hope Creek. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has not yet officially declared if he will sign the bill but has been a nuclear energy proponent since his time in office and is expected to sign it into law.

Subsidy costs will ultimately be passed down to energy consumers, where the average New Jersey household will likely see their electricity bill rise $30 to $40 more annually. Commercial businesses will see a much larger increase in their electricity costs.

The added expense, however, are a burden lawmakers prefer to combat rather than becoming more dependent on fossil fuel energy. Nuclear energy comprises roughly one-third of all energy consumed in New Jersey. If the three reactors shut down, tremendous energy consumption would be directed toward fossil fuel sources.

The subsidy legislation is the latest example of how state and federal lawmakers are dealing with a rapidly dynamic energy industry. Natural gas — riding high from the implementation of hydraulic fracturing — has skyrocketed in production, making it cheaper and more viable than coal and nuclear. Natural gas’s fierce competition has resulted in the closures of numerous coal and nuclear plants across the country.

The legislation, if the governor signs, will also mean thousands of direct and indirect jobs tied to the plant will be saved. Numerous PSEG employees traveled Thursday to Trenton with orange shirts displaying “SAVE MY JOB” and celebrated the bill’s passage.

Not everyone is happy. Environmentalists and petroleum leaders — two groups usually at odds with each other — derided what they called a “bailout” for PSEG.

“Today New Jersey legislators turned their backs on consumers by approving a bailout for PSEG’s already profitable nuclear plants,” New Jersey Petroleum Council Executive Director James Benton said in a Thursday report. “Forcing consumers to boost PSEG’s Wall Street profits at the expense of Main Street consumers is irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent moving forward for corporate welfare in the state.”

The Sierra Club, an environmental group, also aired their disapproval. “It’s going to put a chilling effect on spending more for renewable energy, because to build out renewable will cost much more,” the group’s New Jersey chapter Director Jeff Tittel stated in a New York Times Thursday report. “This bill is about a nuclear subsidy, and that’s the primary purpose. And that’s the diversion to make you think you’re getting something that you’re not.”

However, other environmental groups celebrated the subsidy, recognizing nuclear energy ultimately means less fossil fuels emissions.

“New Jersey’s passage Thursday of legislation to prevent the premature closure of the state’s nuclear plants is another crucial victory to save America’s largest source of clean energy,” Environmental Progress President Michael Shellenberger wrote in a Thursday Forbes piece.

The subsidy bill for PSEG is part of a larger effort by Murphy and public officials to phase out non-renewable energy production and reduce their carbon emissions.

On the same day the nuclear bill passed, lawmakers also pushed through sweeping legislation mandating 35 percent of its energy comes from renewables by 2025 — 50 percent by 2030. Currently, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar will provide just under 18 percent of the state’s total energy production. The energy mandate passed Thursday puts New Jersey in line with California and New York — two progressives states that set stringent mandates for renewable energy consumption.

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