Gov. Phil Murphy approved a $300 million yearly nuclear energy subsidy on Wednesday morning, bailing out two of the state's nuclear power plants, both in Salem County.
The bill signing means that the 2 million ratepayers under Public Service Enterprise Group, which owns the two power plants, could be paying $30 or $40 more a year on their electric bill. That would come in the form of a fee or surcharge added to the electric bill.
“Signing these measures represents a down payment to the people of New Jersey on the clean energy agenda I set forth at the beginning of my administration – a plan that will always consider the best interests of our residents and our environment while growing our economy,” Murphy said at the Monmouth Junction bill-signing, on a solar farm.
Both plants, the Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plants, were built in the 1970’s and would risk being closed down lacking the subsidy, unable to compete with cheaper natural gas which has flooded the utilities market.
PSEG backed a prior bill, equally controversial, while then Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was in office, arguing it would help keep the plants competitive. The bill stalled in the legislature before making it to Christie's desk.
Murphy framed the move as part of New Jersey’s efforts to be powered 100 percent by clean energy by 2050. Right now, that number stands at 13 percent.
To that end, Murphy also signed Executive Order 28, which would direct a variety of state agencies to come up with an “Energy Master Plan,” to figure out how to reach the 2050 goal, due June 1, 2019.
Under the plan, 21 percent of the state’s electricity should be clean energy produced in New Jersey; 35 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.
It would include unveiling an ambitious solar panel infrastructure, producing 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and reducing New Jersey’s electrical usage by 2 percent and natural gas usage by 0.75 percent.
Chief among opponents concerns: that New Jersey residents would foot the bill.
“Gov. Murphy will shamefully sell out ratepayers and clean energy in giving PSEG the biggest corporate subsidy in state history, $300 million a year,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in a statement. “This bill package will mean New Jersey stays hooked on nuclear power at the expense off renewables like solar and wind.”
Murphy, at the bill signing ceremony, assured there were safeguards for ratepayers.
“I am highly confident the ratepayer will be represented, without any question,” Murphy said.
The governor added: “The ratepayer will be well represented, and I think there are a lot of safeguards in this bill.”
Murphy’s law also drew out the opposition of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, who said that the it would add to the “already high cost of doing business in New Jersey” and create new “ratepayer obligations.”
"This legislation continues the trend of not analyzing what the ultimate economic impact to the ratepayer will be and does not offer any needed offsets to neutralize the impacts on business ratepayers,” NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka said.
Lena Smith, a policy advocate from Food & Water Watch, said the bill isn’t “bold enough,” and that it was a “massive giveaway” for PSEG.
“PSE&G conned Trenton lawmakers into granting them a massive giveaway in the name of saving jobs in New Jersey,” Smith said. “Once this bill was passed, the company came clean, admitting that this dirty deal gives them money to spend wherever they see fit.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the prior nuclear subsidy.