After months of behind-the-scenes lobbying, a bill to provide Public Service Enterprise with subsidies to keep its nuclear power plants open is apparently in the legislative hopper.
The bill (S-3560) presumably filed late evening yesterday, is not yet public on the Office of Legislative Services website (as of 7:40 this morning), so how much utility customers will have to fork over to subsidize the three plants in South Jersey is not yet known.
Nevertheless, it appears there will be a joint legislative hearing of the bill by Senate and Assembly committees some time next week, amid predictions the legislation will likely be taken up and approved by both houses in the final two sessions of the lame-duck Legislature in early January.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney is the sponsor.
PSEG is pushing the bill, threatening to close its plants if the state does not provide lucrative financial incentives as New York and Illinois have done to avert the shutdown of nuclear units in those states. The nuclear industry is facing steep economic challenges in competing against cheap natural-gas plants.
But the subsidies are opposed by a broad coalition of business groups, energy competitors, consumer advocates, and environmental organizations. They argue PSEG has failed to prove the plants are not profitable and question why utility customers should bail them out.
It is not clear how much PSEG is seeking to prop up the plants, but opponents say the cost could run as much as $300 million or more a year for as long as a decade. If the ratepayer subsidies are too high, clean-energy advocates fear it will crowd out investments in renewable-energy alternatives, such as solar and wind power.
The lack of information left the Statehouse awash in rumors yesterday over a process that was remarkably opaque even for a lame-duck session. Typically well-informed lawmakers acknowledged not knowing details in the bill.
“It causes us to question what is the rush and why is it being done in secrecy,’’ said Ev Liebman, associate director of AARP of New Jersey.
“It should be scandalous they’re even considering a $3 billion bailout, paid by millions of ratepayers on a bill no one’s yet seen,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action of New Jersey.
Earlier in the day, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Rethink Energy NJ, and the Environmental Defense Fund told lawmakers in a joint letter there is no good public-policy reason to advance a standalone subsidy for nuclear power plants during a rushed lame-duck session.
“Any program that is established to support existing nuclear plants must include a commitment to accelerate the adoption of clean energy,’’ according to the letter. Gov. Chris Christie has indicated support for a subsidy for nuclear plants, but has ruled out signing such a measure if it includes incentives for environmental programs.