Asbury Park Press

Experts Agree: PSE&G Handout Unnecessary

Asbury Park Press — February 13, 2019

By Janet Tauro
Your Turn Guest columnist

It's official. Two independent regulatory entities and an economist have issued reports stating that PSE&G did not prove financial hardship necessitating an annual $300 million ratepayer-funded handout ramrodded by the New Legislature last year.

The reports, filed with the state Board of Public Utilities, which will ultimately decide whether PSE&G receives the funding, throw cold water on the company's claims that it would be economically unfeasible to continue the operation of its three nuclear units in Salem County; Salem I and II and Hope Creek, without the ratepayer handout. Exelon Corp., the owner of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey, has a financial stake in the Hope Creek reactor and would share in the handout.

As reported in NJ Spotlight, the in-depth analysis by the NJ ratepayer advocate, Stephanie Brand, and the operators of the Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland (PJM) grid, which distributes the state's energy from various sources, states that PSE&G overstated costs and under-represented revenues.

PSE&G also did not adequately take into account the role that renewables and energy efficiency will play in providing the state's baseload energy needs, according to the report. Instead, the company limited its analysis to showing the outcome of closing its three nuclear units all at once.

Not only would PSE&G not be operating in the red, but it is projected that the company will make between $338 to $477 million in annual profits over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by Paul Sotkiewicz, a former PJM chief economist who filed a separate report with the BPU. Sotkiewicz drafted the report for the PJM Provider's Group, a coalition of power suppliers.

New Jersey ratepayers' bills are among the highest nationally, and individuals would not be the only ones whose utility bills would increase if BPU approves the windfall. Some of the state's largest employers would be especially hard hit. That's one reason why an odd-mix of opponents have drawn together to oppose the handout; the NJ Large Energy Users Coalition, small business Main Street Alliance, Chemistry Council, Petroleum Council, Gasoline Retailers, and Convenience Store Association, as well as consumer groups like AARP and NJ Citizen Action and environmental groups. The portion large employers might pay could be in excess of $500,000 annually, with some paying more than $1 million. Jobs could be lost if businesses are forced to pay higher electric bills or leave the state.

PSE&G's greatest allies have been the New Jersey Legislature and Senate President Steven Sweeney. In approving the financial lift for PSE&G, they cited the jobs that would be lost if the plants closed and loss of a varied energy mix, and feared an increase in greenhouse gas emissions if the state had to meet its energy needs with carbon-producing fracked gas from out of state.

Clean Water Action has publicly called for a just transition for workers, renewable energy job training and a complete decommissioning of the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear reactors by plant employees.

Using nuclear power as an answer to climate change is a smokescreen Life-cycle emissions from the nuclear fuel chain, from mining, to processing, to disposal, makes nuclear power the third-highest carbon emitter after coal-fired plants and natural gas, according to Beyond Nuclear, a nuclear watchdog group.

Nor is nuclear power emissions-free. Nuclear power plants emit daily doses of low-level radiation. This lethal cocktail of radionucleotides are odorless, colorless and tasteless, but they are present nonetheless.

Independent study by epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, director of the Radiation Public Health Project, found elevated cancer mortality rates in Salem County. Studies in Europe and Scotland have found elevated pediatric cancer rates in communities around nuclear plants. Citizens and environmental groups have called for a definitive national study, which has never happened. A federal National Academy of Sciences cancer study around older nuclear plants nationwide, including Oyster Creek, was abruptly canceled in 2015.

The independent analyses should weigh heavily in the BPU's final decision, which is expected in April. The board should flatly reject PSE&G's $300 million annual goody bag. It will do nothing to boost renewables, expand a 21st-century green job market or achieve Gov. Phil Murphy's goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Janet Tauro is New Jersey board chair of Clean Water Action.

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