N.J. nuclear plant operator seeking state subsidy

Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph Izzo testifies at a legislative hearing Monday.

Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph Izzo testifies at a legislative hearing Monday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers are examining whether to act in the final weeks of the legislative session to give some financial assistance to nuclear power plants in Salem County.

Low natural gas prices have hurt the profitability of the Hope Creek and Salem nuclear power plants, said Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph Izzo. He said he might shut them down in two years.

“We believe it is cheaper to keep nuclear power than to watch it close. We are not asking for a bailout,” he said Monday during a legislative committee hearing in Trenton. “We’re asking you to join us in correction of these market flaws.”

But Steven Goldenberg with the New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition said the state should not be correcting market issues.

“As we understand it, PSE&G stands poised to receive upwards of $3 billion to $4 billion that is to their sole benefit, collected essentially as a tax not payable to the state for any state purpose but to a single successful company to the detriment of — literally — everybody else,” he said.

Stefanie Brand, director of the state agency that represents ratepayers, said the company should be required to open its financial books for scrutiny before any subsidy is approved.

“To rush this through … and not take the time to really pay attention puts ratepayers at risk,” she said.

There’s no bill yet to give the company subsidies, but legislation could be crafted and advanced before the lame duck session ends in January and a new session begins, said Senate Environment Committee chairman Bob Smith.

“I think the real question comes down to, ‘Do you believe Public Service, that this is an eminent issue?’ And if it is an eminent or emergent issue, then maybe you should be acting faster than not,” he said.

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