Already seeking a $3-a-month household surcharge for nuclear power, New Jersey lawmakers are adding new fees to promote solar and wind power as part of a bailout sought by the state’s largest utility.
Lawmakers added the environmental provisions after a nuclear-only subsidy died in the Legislature earlier this month, when incoming Gov. Phil Murphy signaled that he wanted the bill to advance his clean-energy agenda.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the sponsor of the bill, couldn’t say how much the new solar and offshore wind subsidies would cost Public Service Electric & Gas ratepayers. Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand said she planned to analyze the potential cost to ratepayers.
“Ratepayers are not a bottomless pit,” she said. “There is a limit to how much we can pay.”
The bill would create new incentives for nonpolluting energy sources as well as conservation measures. Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), another sponsor of the legislation, said the conservation measures would offset some of the additional costs for solar and wind energy.
Public Service Enterprise Group, the corporate parent of PSE&G and the operator of the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants, has pressed lawmakers to approve legislation that would permit a surcharge of $31 to $41 a year on typical residential electric bills to keep the plants in the red for at least 20 years. It would generate about $300 million a year.
Without the subsidy, utility Chief Executive Officer Ralph Izzo has told lawmakers, he’d be compelled to close the plants within two years and rely almost exclusively on cheaper power from natural gas. The Salem County plants generate about 40 percent of the state’s electric power.
“If I have 500 supermarkets and 490 of them are making money, I shut the 10 of them that are not making money,” Izzo told lawmakers Thursday.
A competitor, Ray Long of Princeton-based NRG Energy, said the better analogy would be expecting customers to subsidize dial-up telephones rather than switching to wireless lines.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who has championed the utility’s cause, said lawmakers were determined to pass a nuclear subsidy bill in a matter of weeks. He insisted that the bill wouldn’t raise electric rates on its own – a final decision would be left to the state Board of Public Utilities after reviewing confidential PSEG financial information.
“We’re moving forward, this is an important issue,” Sweeney told reporters before the hearing. “We’re going to get it done. Everyone wants a clean environment. The environment has a cost.”
Environmentalists weren’t celebrating the latest version of the bill. Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said incentives for solar and wind power should stand on their own and not be tied to a bailout for nuclear plants. Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel called the solar and wind provisions “modest at best.”
Murphy said he favors a broad solution that keeps the nuclear plants operating while nudging PSEG toward more solar and wind, which account for about 2 percent of the company’s power.
“We want to see it done the right way, and being done the right way includes explicit steps to propel the green economy. That’s where we’ve been. That’s where we are,” Murphy told reporters at an unrelated event.
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