Last April, I was proud to be part of a bipartisan coalition of state legislators who started New Jersey on the path toward a clean, climate-friendly electric grid. By wide margins, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle approved a package of clean energy bills that were drafted to ensure our state will benefit from a carbon-free energy supply by 2050.
An important part of this groundbreaking legislation was an economic safety net for New Jersey’s nuclear power plants.
It is easy to take New Jersey’s nuclear plants for granted and underestimate the huge positive impact they have. Considering that roughly 40 percent of New Jersey’s energy is produced by nuclear power, we cannot ignore the future of this industry.
As nuclear plants close across the nation, New Jersey must take a closer look at just how important an economic engine and environmental asset these nuclear plants are for our region and understand the reasons these plants are worth preserving.
Here in New Jersey, our three nuclear plants employ 1,600 full-time workers – employees with good salaries and benefits. The majority of these workers live and spend their salaries – a payroll totaling more than $175 million a year – in New Jersey. A recent study estimated that if these nuclear plants were to close, there would be a loss of 5,800 direct and indirect jobs. The report also showed that the nuclear plants contribute more than $800 million annually to New Jersey’s GDP and are responsible for more than $37 million in state and local tax revenues each year.
This is not just an issue for the thousands of people who will lose their jobs if the plants close. Workers’ families are affected as they are forced to leave the region to find employment; neighborhoods are impacted as property values and school enrollments drop; and all residents are impacted by decreased services or higher tax rates as revenues for local and state coffers decline. It is a story that has been repeated everywhere that nuclear plants have closed.
In addition to their clear economic value, these nuclear plants are vital to the health of our citizens, our environment, and in our fight against man-made climate change.
In New Jersey, nuclear plants provide more than 90 percent of our carbon-free energy that keeps our air clean of greenhouse gases and our carbon footprint small. If New Jersey’s nuclear plants are forced to shut down, our state’s energy needs still remain the same. That means a new source of electricity, or augmenting an existing one, will have to replace the nuclear energy no longer available. In the short-term, that will lead to an increase in the use of natural gas and the ongoing debate surrounding the construction of more pipelines throughout our state.
This increased demand for natural gas could increase energy bills by $400 million per year. But that’s only the beginning. The loss of carbon-free energy – and its inevitable replacement with carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuels - would lead to higher public health and environmental costs totaling $585 million per year due to increased air pollution.
The growing challenge of balancing the public’s demand for energy with the proper stewardship of our environment requires innovative thinking and bold investment. While I support a clean energy future with a portfolio of solar and wind sources, safe nuclear energy also has a place in that structure.
That’s why the New Jersey Legislature last year enacted that safety net – a Zero Emissions Credit (ZEC) program – in order to invest in the clean energy that nuclear plants provide and ensure they are able to do so for many more years. The ZEC program that the Legislature approved, and that the governor signed into law, provides for a maximum of $300 million per year in economic support for our state’s nuclear fleet.