With the Trump administration mulling a plan to prop up nuclear and coal plants, critics say it will cost consumers billions of dollars on their energy bills and undermine the transition to renewable energy.
The administration’s proposal is designed to avert the closing of new nuclear and coal units, which have faced economic challenges in competing against cheap natural plants in a rapidly evolving energy marketplace.
It is essentially the same argument that was advanced in New Jersey to win passage of a new law this spring that could have ratepayers pay up to $300 million a year to subsidize three nuclear units in South Jersey operated by a subsidiary of the Public Service Enterprise Group.
Now, if President Donald Trump gets his way, the operators of the regional power grids could be ordered to buy electricity from the nation’s fiscally strapped nuclear and coal plants for two years as a way to prevent their closure.
Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and chairman of New York and Maine utility commissions, called the administration’s plan to tax consumers to support failing power plants energy policy-making gone haywire.
In a teleconference call with reporters, Bradford noted there are no state or federal energy regulators petitioning the federal government for these measures, which became public last week in a story by Bloomberg.
“By overpaying hundreds of dollars per family per year for electricity that can be obtained far less expensively from other sources, the administration is impoverishing customers, cutting off construction and industrial jobs, and suppressing energy innovation,’’ he said.
Based on what other states have already paid out in subsidies to keep nuclear plants open, the Nuclear Information & Resource Service projected that subsidizing the industry could cost American consumers $8 billion to $17 billion a year.
“Betting on an old, increasingly uneconomical nuclear and coal plants as a national security strategy is like gold-plating a Studebaker and calling it a tank,’’ said Tim Judson, executive director of the NIRS.
Proponents of the subsidies, however, argue nuclear needs to be a key part of the nation’s energy future as a carbon-free source of electricity while the country transitions to a clean-energy future. In New Jersey, backers of the subsidies also cited the importance of the sector to South Jersey’s economy, where thousands are directly employed at the three plants there.
Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for Public Citizen, vowed to use all regulatory and legal means to fight what he called the Trump administration’s outrageous proposal.