Murphy signs nuclear subsidy and renewable energy bills

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Sponsors cheered after a long and radioactive political war finally ended with Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature on a two bill package. The more controversial guarantees Public Service Enterprise Group up to $300 million a year to subsidize its Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants at an average cost of $40 per ratepayer. Without that, PSEG had threatened to shut down its nuclear fleet in New Jersey and put up to 5,800 people out of work.

“To reach our clean energy goals, we will need to keep these plants open and safely operational. They not only produce 40 percent of our power, but over 90 percent, as of today, of our clean energy,” the governor said.

“It’s zero emissions,” said Assemblyman John McKeon. “So let’s fast-forward and what would happen without this, if those nuclear plants were closed?”

PSEG argued its plants needed subsidies to remain profitable. The other bill Murphy signed promotes New Jersey’s renewable energy portfolio, requiring 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and establishing a community solar energy program, among other initiatives. In fact, the signing ceremony occurred at a South Brunswick solar energy farm.

“When we started the process, we all said that when it’s done, we want legislation that is greener than Ireland. And what do we have? Greener than Ireland,” Sen. Bob Smith.

Getting here cost loads of lobbying cash and political capital, as special interests clashed. Many consumer and environmental groups claimed the clean energy bills merely provided safe cover for a fat corporate giveaway. South Jersey lawmakers saw 5,800 jobs on the line. In the end, they hugged and praised each other. Senate President Steve Sweeney was even careful not to cuss.

“It’s a great day, and again, it didn’t come without a lot of hard work. And when people hear, we can’t get along, can’t get things done, that’s just bull. You know, the process is the process. I didn’t use the other word, governor! If you weren’t here, I would’ve used the other one,” Sweeney said.

PSEG CEO Ralph Izzo said in a statement, “… These new laws will preserve and create good-paying jobs and spur billions of dollars in investment in clean energy and energy efficiency across the state. And will help preserve nuclear energy …”

But critics charge there’s not enough oversight, leaving ratepayers vulnerable.

“It’s a $300 million subsidy per year coming from a $40 household tax. There’s no demonstration that they need it. Ralph Izzo said himself that the plants are making money,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

“The ratepayer will be well represented, and I think there are a lot of safeguards in this bill that will prevent some of the sort of general swirling around, the money’s going to go out of state, the ratepayer won’t have representation, they’ll get the subsidy even if they don’t need it.’ None of that is true,” Murphy said.

But wait, there’s more. The governor also signed an executive order calling for a master plan to make New Jersey 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The plan’s due in a year.