LETTER – Nuclear Subsidies Bill Dead Again: Victory for Ratepayers and Renewables

The bill for nuclear subsidies, S3560 (Sweeney/Smith), has been held from the Senate today and most likely on Monday as well. The Assembly will not be listing it at all. These means that the bill will not be voted on during this session. The bill supports Chris Christie’s negotiations to give PSEG subsidies for their nuclear plants in New Jersey. Under this bill, PSEG could start receiving subsidies within a year, despite being profitable enough to have bid into auction. It also includes subsidies to fix up their plants. The bill goes minimally through 2030 but can be extended. The bill has been worked on behind-the-scenes with little opportunity for public examination and input. The bill is not yet up in the Assembly.

“Phil Murphy has stood up for the environment and ratepayers by raising his concerns with this nuclear bill. This has helped to kill the bill this session. Murphy believes that we have to look at larger energy picture before moving forward with something like this. We agree, and believe this is a critical step. Senator Sweeney was attempting to tie the hands of the next Administration and the incoming Governor told him no. They want to be able to determine our future energy policy, not Chris Christie. Phil Murphy has committed to a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050 and blocking this bill helps us reach that goal,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “PSEG laid an egg in lame duck, but it didn’t hatch. We are happy to see this terrible subsidy bill stopped. Now we can move forward with 100% renewable energy by 2050. This is not only a win for the ratepayers, but a victory for renewable energy and green economy.”

Under energy deregulation these plants received billions in subsidies as Stranded Assests, despite the plants being profitable. They received hundreds of millions more from the ratepayers via Nuclear Plant Closure funds. Currently the three major nuclear power plants in NJ have made the auction and are financially profitable. The fourth, Oyster Creek, usually makes auction but is scheduled to close in 2020. Two of the plants looking for subsidies, Salem 1 and 2, operate without cooling towers to mitigate for fish kills. We have given them billions already that they’ve used to kill billions of fish a year.

“Any time you can stop a bill in lame duck that’s wired to go through, is really a victory for the people. This entire process for the bill has been shameful. They tried to rush it through in lame duck without proper scrutiny and oversight. This is how you know they’re up to no good. There is zero justification for any nuclear subsidies. It’s nothing more than giving PSEG a blank check from the ratepayer,” said Jeff Tittel.

During the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee Joint Hearing on the issue, the public was cut off from speaking. Most environmental groups were not able to put their statements on the record. At the hearing, PSEG spread misinformation by comparing this bill to the ones in Illinois or New York. In those states, their nuclear subsidies are tied to renewable energy goals and replacing the plants with renewables when they close. New York’s nuclear subsidy was tied to a goal of 50% renewable by 2030 as well as closing Indian Point and coal plants. In Illinois, the subsidy was attached to money for renewable energy.

“Unlike bills in other states, this nuclear subsidy bill does not have any language that protects or promotes renewable energy. This means that when the plants close, they can be replaced with natural gas. PSEG’s argument for these subsidies is that we will get more gas if the plants close. However, not only is there nothing written to prevent this, but they are currently building two more gas plants. Christie only has a few more weeks in office but the Legislature is once again allowing him to push through legislation that undermines Phil Murphy’s renewable energy agenda,” said Jeff Tittel.

New Jersey used to be a leader in clean energy until Governor Christie was elected. Before he came in office, there were 11,000 solar jobs in the state, but now there are only 6,000. We used to do forty megawatts a month and now we’re doing eight. As a result, New Jersey has dropped from and 2nd to 8th in solar in the nation. He has tried to subsidize gas power plants and continuously blocked offshore wind. The amount of greenhouse gasses emitted in New Jersey has been increasing in the last couple years.

“This is a victory for New Jersey’s ratepayers and our environment. Governor Christie tried to dictate our state’s energy policy for the next 40 years with this bill. It’s incredibly important that it is not going forward. This way, Phil Murphy and his Administration can work towards their goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050 without being undercut by subsidized nuclear plants. We want to make sure we’re not subsidizing nuclear plants, but more importantly that when the plants close, they need to be replaced by renewable energy,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Now the next Governor’s hands won’t be tied and we can move forward with a 100% renewable future. We will keep fighting any of these kinds of subsidizes that block that goal.”