It wouldn’t take effect until late next year at the earliest, but lawmakers unanimously advanced a plan Wednesday that could raise electricity costs by around $40 a year for homeowners and a half-million dollars for big industrial customers.

It’s being done in the interest of girding the finances of the Salem County nuclear plants operated by Public Service Enterprise Group in an era of abundant, cheap natural gas.

PSEG chief executive Ralph Izzo said he wants the nuclear plants to stay open for its employees, the state and environment. But, reiterating comments from a legislative hearing earlier this month, he said they will be closed if trends continue and they turn unprofitable.

“So what others define as acceptable risk and as acceptable economic outcomes, I tell you, it’s 100 percent irrelevant,” Izzo said.

Ratepayer Advocate Stefanie Brand questioned why the size of the potential rate hike is set by the legislation before regulators even get a chance to examine the company’s finances.

“I’m not advocating that they close. I am advocating though for a system that does not allow for a single company to hold us hostage in this way,” Brand said.

Brand estimates the increase would cost ratepayers around $320 million cumulatively, amounting to an average of $41 per household. PSEG estimates the impact at an average $31.

“We do not have evidence in front of us to demonstrate that this level of subsidy or any level of subsidy is needed for these plants,” Brand said.

The increases would cost the members of the New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition an average of $500,000 more a year, said attorney Steven Goldenberg.

“This is a massive giveaway based on unwarranted fears that have been fanned by PSE&G,” Goldenberg said.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, whose district is home to the nuclear plants, said the bill creates a review process for the Board of Public Utilities, not an automatic handout.

“If you listen to the anti’s, they don’t need it,” Sweeney said. “So it ain’t going to happen then, if they don’t need it.”

Izzo said the plants could start losing money in two years. Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said they must be kept stable while the state pivots to a renewable-energy future.

“There is no question in my mind that our nukes across the country and in New Jersey are in trouble. Not a doubt about it,” Smith said.

Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t committed to signing the bill, but he said his office had input as it was written and emphasized his support for nuclear power when asked about the legislation Thursday. He said if people want to end the use of fossil fuels, nuclear is a better option than offshore windmills, which he said are unreliable.

“How are you going to do that if you eliminate nuclear?” Christie said. “I mean, I don’t think you’re going to do even if you don’t eliminate nuclear, but you’re sure as hell aren’t going to do it if you do.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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