TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday advanced legislation to give the state’s nuclear power industry a $300 million annual rate-payer-financed rescue package.
Democrat-led Assembly and Senate committees approved the legislation during largely overlapping committee hearings that sparked complaints from the bill’s opponents because the schedule prevented them from testifying at both hearings.
It was lawmakers’ latest attempt to advance the legislation pushed by the state’s biggest utility, PSEG, since December.
The utility says its two nuclear power facilities in southern New Jersey are within two years of financial insolvency. That prompted the company to seek a bailout. Under the bill, the state’s utility ratepayers would see their costs go up an estimated $41 annually.
The legislation has the backing of Senate President Steve Sweeney, who said recently he expects the legislation to come for a floor vote next week. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy hasn’t specified whether he backs the bill but says he views nuclear power, which emits zero carbon emissions, as a “bridge” to a 100 percent clean energy future. Lawmakers say he’s been involved behind the scenes in crafting the legislation.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said he’s considering putting the legislation for a vote next week as well but didn’t explicitly commit to doing so.
Some lawmakers were skeptical. Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer voted to release the measure from committee but questioned whether a ratepayer bailout could undermine the state’s utility deregulation setup.
“What happens when the next company comes to us,” Schaer asked.
The bill had included clean-energy initiatives favored by Murphy. But legislators stripped those measures out and put them in a second bill. That change resulted in the clean-energy bill gaining support from a number of environmental groups that questioned the earlier bill.
Under the nuclear rescue legislation, the state’s utility companies would pay for a credit and pass the costs, estimated at about $300 million annually, to customers.
The clean energy legislation calls for a number of changes, including a requirement that regulators study how better to store renewable energy.
Nuclear accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s electricity production. Renewables account for about 5 percent now.