A nuclear plant.

In an unexpected setback, a bill to subsidize nuclear power and clean energy yesterday failed to advance in the Senate, a reprieve, if only temporary, for an unwieldy coalition of opponents.

The legislation (S-877) could face significant revisions, including the possibility it might revert to its original intent — a bill that could provide subsidies of $300 million a year to nuclear power plants while omitting clean-energy initiatives backed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The bill, or earlier versions of it, has been pushed by Public Service Enterprise Group to prop up three nuclear units it operates in South Jersey. Without an infusion of ratepayer subsidies, the company has threatened to close the plants.

Further review needed

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the sponsor, told reporters after yesterday's session the bill is complex and needs further review, and did not rule out going back to his original legislation. That bill had bipartisan support in the lame-duck session, but got held up by the governor, who wanted the bill to include parts of his clean-energy agenda.


But others fear peeling off the clean-energy items in the bill from the nuclear subsidy will jeopardize prospects to pass renewable-energy initiatives in standalone legislation.

"We are better off at looking at everything together,'' said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. He opposes any move to separate the nuclear and green initiatives.

"It's the wrong way. They tried it back earlier this winter and it got held up,'' Potosnak said. "With some time, I think folks can get it right.''

The legislation sets aggressive targets for renewable energy — like mandating 50 percent of the state's electricity comes from sources such as offshore wind and solar by 2030. But many environmentalists believe a cap in the bill to limit energy spikes for consumers will undermine those goals.

"We need the right policies in place to move New Jersey toward an affordable, efficient clean-energy future, and this legislation fails to do that,'' said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ.

Neither the governor's office nor PSEG responded to requests for comment. It is uncertain when the bill, or a new version, will come up.

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