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Thursday New Jersey vote expected on nuclear, solar, wind subsidy bills

The state Legislature will vote Thursday on several clean energy bills, including one to provide $300 million a year to nuclear power plants that can prove they are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

Other bills would subsidize solar and wind power. Subsidies would be paid by ratepayers.

The nuclear subsidy bill alone would cost ratepayers $3 billion over 10 years, according to Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand, who opposes the bill and whose job is to look out for the interests of ratepayers.

Supporters say the bills would keep a diverse mix of clean energy operating in New Jersey – nuclear energy does not contribute greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere – and help the solar and wind energy industries grow.

But opponents say the costs to ratepayers are too high, with the nuclear subsidy bill drawing the strongest criticism.

Brand has said PSEG should first prove it needs a subsidy before the legislature acts.

One of the bills (A2485/S1217) is to revive Fishermen’s Energy’s small offshore wind demonstration project off Atlantic City, which the publication Windpower Offshore recently reported is under preliminary agreement to be sold to EDF Renewable Energy of San Diego.

Paul Gallagher of Fishermen’s Energy and EDF did not return calls for comment.

The bills are expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate, and be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

If all pass they could add about $55 per year to the average residential electric bill, co-sponsor Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer, Middlesex, told the Assembly Appropriations committee last week. About $35 to $41 per year of that would pay for the nuclear subsidy, he said.

Public Service Enterprise Group Chairman Ralph Izzo has said the company’s three nuclear plants have been profitable but will become unprofitable soon, because of competition from cheaper natural gas plants. They are the Salem and Hope Creek generators located in Salem County, and will be the only nuclear plants in the state after Oyster Creek in Lacey Township closes in October.

Under the nuclear subsidy bill (A3724/S2313) the state Board of Public Utilities must examine PSEG finances and determine if a subsidy is needed. The bill does not say to what extent the nuclear plants are to be made profitable. Instead it lays out a $0.004 per kilowatt hour surcharge to be paid to qualifying nuclear power plants.

Opponents include Brand, the business community, non-nuclear electric generation companies, and environmental groups.

“There has been no demonstration that PSEG’s nuclear plants are in financial difficulty other than bald assertions and ultimatums issued by the company,” Brand said in prepared remarks to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“While there are some nuclear power plants in this country that are at risk of shutting down, most of them are in areas where the energy and capacity prices paid are lower than New Jersey or where other factors may increase their operating costs,” Brand said.

The market monitor for PJM, the regional grid operator, has testified that PSEG’s nuclear plants made $1.4 billion more than their operating costs in the years 2013 to 2017, she said, and will continue to make money.

Supporters like sponsors State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, say nuclear provides 30-40 percent of New Jersey’s energy, and if nuclear power is lost electricity costs would go up even more than the subsidy would cost.

Also to be voted on Thursday is A3723/S2314, which would change the way solar energy is subsidized in the state and increase subsidies by $430 million over 10 years, according to Brand. Supporters, which include some environmental organizations, say it is needed to get the state to Murphy’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

But some environmental groups, like the New Jersey Sierra Club, say the bill puts a cap on solar development and would be counterproductive.

Source: pressofatlanticcity.com