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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2007, file photo, a tractor and trailer sit near an outbuilding on a small farm, not far from a cooling tower at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station operated by Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. in Lower Alloways Creek Township, N.J. New Jersey regulators are expected to decide this week whether to approve a $300 million bailout of the state's three nuclear power plants, operated by the state's biggest utility company. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey regulators voted Thursday to approve $300 million in customer-funded subsidies for the state's nuclear industry despite finding the plants are financially viable.

The decision means that all residential utility customers in the state will see their bills go up by about $40 a year under some estimates. Large businesses have said their bills could go up by about 50 percent.

In return for the bailout, the state's biggest utility, Public Service Enterprise Group, is expected to keep the three southern New Jersey nuclear plants that supply an estimated two-fifths of the state's electricity supply in operation.

The plants provide carbon-free energy and employ up to 2,000 people, the company says.

The Board of Public Utilities voted 4-1 to approve the bailout during a meeting packed with supporters and opponents at the statehouse annex.

For the first time on Thursday the public learned that the board's staff, which delivered a presentation before the vote, determined that the plants were "viable as they stand now," and "not in need of a subsidy."

Public Service Enterprise Group provided the board with the financial documents used to reach those conclusions, but they were kept confidential, as required by law.

The findings put board members in the position of supporting a customer-financed electricity tariff that has been vocally opposed by a number of groups, including the AARP -- whose members wore red T-shirts to protest the subsidies -- some environmental organizations and large businesses in the state.

"I would characterize the choices we face as genuinely awful," Board Commissioner Bob Gordon said. "In my view the board is being directed to pay ransom and the hostages are the citizens of New Jersey."

Gordon also lamented the fact that the law, which was passed by the Democratic-led Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy a year ago, fixes the subsidy at $300 million and does not provide for varying the amount.

Gordon called on lawmakers and the governor to consider finding a way to "mitigate" costs for businesses and residents.

Board President Joseph Fiordaliso said despite the financial finding, he thought the panel had a responsibility to consider other factors as well, including the diversity of fuel sources in the state, and the impact on the environment of shuttering plants that emit no carbon.

Business on 04/19/2019

Print Headline: N.J. OKs subsidies for nuclear plants

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