Opponents of Bill Urge Governor to Veto or Revise Nuclear Subsidy Measure

Trouble continues to dog contentious bill as diverse group raises familiar objections at 11th hour

Salem nuclear power plant
In a last-ditch effort, a diverse group of business, labor, consumer advocates, policy wonks, and environmentalists are calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to veto or make substantive changes in a bill that would have ratepayers subsidize nuclear power.

In a three-page letter to the governor, the organizations detailed a lengthy list of objections to the legislation (S-2313), easily passed by lawmakers on April 12 after months of contentious debate. Murphy is widely expected to sign the bill.

The measure aims to prop up three nuclear power plants in South Jersey mostly owned by Public Service Enterprise Group. Like other nuclear units across the country, the company has argued it needs a financial “safety net’’ to keep the plants open in the face of stiff competition from natural gas. The units provide much of the carbon-free electricity in New Jersey.

But opponents said the bill, as drafted, fails to strike a proper balance between utility customers and nuclear power, fails to protect the state’s economy from unfair competition, and will compromise New Jersey’s clean-energy future.

“While we do not oppose a subsidy for nuclear energy if it is first proven to be necessary, we do oppose, as would be required under S-2313, taxpayer and employer subsidies when they are not needed and which are established behind closed doors by the interested parties and without ratepayer participation,’’ according to the letter.

Those who signed the letter echo many of the arguments made during the rancorous debate over the bill: PSEG has not demonstrated its plants are unprofitable; indeed, they will be through 2019. The bill also fails to guarantee the Division of Rate Counsel will be part of a proceeding to determine if subsidies should be awarded.

From left: Amy Goldsmith, Clean Water Action; Doug O'Malley, Environment New Jersey; Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club of New Jersey; Steven Goldenerg, New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition
Among those who signed the letter are Green Faith, an environmental faith-based group; NJ Citizen Action; Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey; NJ Policy Perspective; New Jersey Working Families Alliance; Communications Workers of America; New Jersey Sierra Club; AARP of New Jersey; New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition; Main Street Alliance; and 32BJ SEIU.

Backers of the bill included large segments of labor, business groups in South Jersey, and former Gov. Jim Florio.

In advocating changes in the bill, the opponents argued the legislation should be amended to ensure no state-funded subsidies are paid to out-of-state nuclear facilities, such as Limerick and Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania. PSEG’s top executive said out-of-state plants could be eligible for the subsidies this week in an earnings call with analysts.

Finally, the groups argued for more transparency in the entire process before the state Board of Public Utilities to avert any plant receiving a subsidy of one dollar more than is needed.