New Jersey solar RPS increase weds nuclear bailout bill in committee hearing

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And then there was one.

When the Senate Budget Appropriations held hearings on Senate Bill (S) 877 this morning, it was no longer just a bill to insist nuclear power is a “clean” energy source and provide subsidies to nuclear plants through a renewable-energy credit type program.

Now it included plans to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and the solar carve-out in what some analysts are saying is the nuclear industry’s way of trying to pass their unpopular subsidies by attaching them to the much more popular RPS legislation.

Prior to this morning, the two issues were pending in the Senate as two separate bills: S529, which raised the RPS; and S877, which created a nuclear subsidy program. But by the time the debate occurred, the two bills had gotten hitched, and S529 had taken S877’s name.

The new solar carve-out rises at a slightly lower rate than under the previously, rising to 4.3% next year (down from 4.6% in the standalone bill) and rises only to 5.1% (down from 5.3%). On the backend, however, the carve out, which starts to decline starting in 2022 from 5.1% only diminishes to 1.1% in 2033 (up from 0.33%).

No explanation was provided about why the two bills were combined.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) applauded the combination and urged the legislature to pass the bill as soon as possible.

“The New Jersey legislature has taken the right initial steps to raise the state’s renewable energy goal and create a community solar market,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “While a few key changes were left out of the final bill, including provisions to close out the current Solar Renewable Energy Credit program in an orderly manner, this bill provides both short-term fixes to the RPS and the authorization for community solar that the industry has been seeking.”

A spokesperson for SEIA had no comment on the nuclear subsidy provisions in the bill.

New Jersey solar watchers say the bill needs to be passed within the next six months to prevent a disruption of the New Jersey market, which currently ranks fifth in the nation in installed solar capacity.

If the new S877 passes,  New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, whose campaign made environmental protection a centerpiece last year, is expected to sign it into law.

The New Jersey House of Representatives is considering a companion bill, Assembly Bill 2850, which also received a hearing today.