By: Tom Davis |

New Jersey residents who already pay hundreds of dollars each month for electric service may have to dig more out of their pockets very soon.

That’s because more than a million ratepayers may have to fork over more money if the state Legislature passes what some are calling a $300-million-a-year “bailout” for PSEG.

The state Legislature is supposed to vote Thursday to help save New Jersey’s financially stressed nuclear power plants in South Jersey, a plan that could increase the price of energy bills by about $55 a year, according to state officials.

The full Senate and Assembly are scheduled to vote on the bills on Thursday. They require Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature to become law.

PSEG has said it could shut nuclear reactors, including those at Salem and Hope Creek, in a few years if they don’t get any help.

“Lawmakers have come to appreciate that the financial difficulties facing the plants are real, that there will be severe consequences … if the plants were to close and that it will be less costly to preserve the plants than to replace them,” Michael Jennings, a spokesman for PSEG, said in an email to Bloomberg.

The plan could provide $300 million annually for nuclear power plants operated by PSEG. In December, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, an independent advocacy group appointed by the governor’s office, said the plan would lead to a rate hike of at least $40.80 annually.

In an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing last week, however, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer, Middlesex, said the legislation would jack up electric bills by $55 per year, and about $40 of would pay for the nuclear subsidy.

“Your job is to put them first,” Stefanie A. Brand, director, Division of Rate Counsel, said in a report recently submitted to state lawmakers.

PSEG has said the rate increase will actually amount to $2.60 a month or $31.20 a year, based on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ standards.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem, said during a legislative hearing that the plan could save thousands of jobs at PSEG plants that operate in Salem County. “This is important stuff,” he said in a video of his testimony. “From a policy standpoint, we have to take the steps that this legislation is allowing us to take.”.

In her report, Brand said she with met residential customers who “can’t use their air conditioning in the summer because they can’t afford it, and both small businesses and large aren’t sure they can continue to do business in New Jersey if their rates keep going up at this pace.

“Let the federal, in-market solutions have a chance to work. That’s what is best for those who are your priority. ”

PSEG has its two nuclear plants account for between 40 and 50 percent of electricity production in New Jersey, but they are in danger of not becoming financially viable within two years.

Jennings has told Patch that the stakes are very high for New Jersey. “It will cost New Jersey much more if the plants were to close – in higher health and environmental costs, reduce resilience and reliability and higher electricity costs which will harm the economy.”

Jennings said his company is “sympathetic to the cost to ratepayers, but the opposition is being disingenuous and providing a false choice.”

“The cost to customers will be far greater if the plants were to close, as has been demonstrated by several economic studies,” he said. “And that will be a greater burden on businesses and make it more difficult to achieve the clean energy future we all want.”

Environmental groups have criticized the proposal.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, accused PSEG of wanting “a $3 billion subsidy for their nuclear plants that don’t need funding.”

“The whole bill is just an excuse to subsidize the nuclear power plants. PSEG are getting $300 million a year whether they need it or not. We should not be moving forward with this nuclear subsidy deal when PSEG will get $800 million in subsidies from Trump’s tax cut.”

He also said the new nuclear bill still “does not have language for replacing the plants when they close with renewables.”

“This bill is bad for the environment, the ratepayers, and the workers. This is all about helping PSEG’s bottom line,” he said.