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New Jersey effort to aid nuclear plants stalls in state Assembly

Proposed legislation that would have provided $300 million/year to New Jersey nuclear plants facing premature closure has stalled in the state Assembly.

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Companion Assembly and Senate bills, which would most benefit PSEG, had been voted out of committee December 20 after each measure was introduced December 14.

But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto decided not to post the Assembly bill for a vote in the chamber, effectively killing the proposal before the legislative session ends Tuesday.

"I never promised to post this bill," Prieto said in a statement Thursday. "I only agreed to hear testimony on it so all sides could have their voices heard.

"That testimony clearly showed there are many concerns from consumers, environmentalists and businesses about this proposed legislation and its impact on New Jersey ratepayers," Prieto said. "That's why this bill and its considerable subsidy was never posted for a vote in the Assembly."

Prieto also said that PSE&G has said its nuclear plants "are turning a profit and will for at least two more years."

Senate Bill 3560 and Assembly Bill 5330 had been unanimously voted out of committee during a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.

Critics of the proposed legislation, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, described the measure as an 11th-hour attempt to pass a "bailout" for nuclear plants before the current legislative session ends.

In a statement December 14 the council, the Environmental Defense Fund and ReThink Energy NJ said Governor Chris Christie has been a longtime supporter of nuclear energy.

Christie, a Republican, leaves office January 16, to be succeeded by Democrat Phil Murphy.

Prieto was praised in a Thursday statement issued by a coalition of consumer, business and environmental organizations that included the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, AARP New Jersey, NJ Citizen Action, Environment New Jersey and the NJ Large Energy Users Coalition.

PSEG Nuclear, which owns all or a majority of three of the state's four reactors, had said it needs assistance to keep the reactors operating and that it expected to qualify for a "nuclear diversity certificate" program created by the bills.

The measures would direct the state's Board of Public Utilities to establish the program that provides for a monthly surcharge on customer electric bills to be paid to nuclear plants designated by the board.

Any plant selected would receive the credit -- set at $0.004/kWh for nuclear-generated electricity -- for three years plus the year in which the bill becomes law.

After that, eligibility for each additional three-year period would be subject to board review.

PSEG spokesman Michael Jennings said in an email December 20 that $300 million/year would be collected from ratepayers under the program if it were enacted.

Exelon Generation operates the 670-MW Oyster Creek reactor, but that plant will shut permanently in 2019 under a 2010 agreement with state officials.

PSEG Nuclear owns a majority interest and Exelon a minority share of the 1,254-MW Salem-1 and the 1,232-MW Salem-2, with PSEG Nuclear owning a third reactor at an adjacent site, the 1,240-MW Hope Creek-1.

PSEG CEO Ralph Izzo, in testimony before the committees in a December 4 joint hearing, said: "Today our nuclear plants are in the black ... but it is due primarily to the fact that our company was able to pre-sell electricity the past three years under contracts that are above current market prices." Izzo said the contracts are "finite," that most would expire by the end of 2018, and that unless market prices increase the company would no longer be covering its costs within the next two years.

"Without intervention -- without a thoughtful, economic safety net -- PSEG will be forced to close its New Jersey nuclear plants," Izzo said.

Izzo said New Jersey's nuclear plants provide nearly half the state's electricity, and the Salem and Hope Creek units prevent the emission of 14 million tons/year of carbon and other air pollutants.

The units add more than $800 million/year to the state's economy, and shutting the reactors would put some 1,600 employees out of work and mean $400 million/year in higher energy bills, he testified.

--Michael McAuliffe,
--Edited by Jason Lindquist,