In a new report, C2ES emphasizes that states are taking the lead in developing policies to preserve existing nuclear power. Considering the urgency and nuclear plants’ role in helping us avoid carbon dioxide emissions, this is a welcome development. In order to meet mid-century climate goals, power sector emission reductions must include both substantial growth in renewables as well as maintaining zero-emission nuclear generation.
New Jersey is a case in point. With sizable majorities, the legislature recently passed three environmental bills which now await the governor’s signature. Taken together they represent one of the most significant commitments to zero-carbon power in the country.
The first bill would establish a zero-emission certificate (ZEC) for zero-carbon electricity generation from New Jersey’s existing nuclear power plants. That credit links fiscal benefits to environmental priorities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, similar to those used to support solar and wind energy. The ZEC incentivizes the environmental and fuel diversity benefits of New Jersey’s existing nuclear plants, which provide 40 percent of the state’s electricity. Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), the plants’ owner, would be required to open up its books to the state Board of Public Utilities, which determines the amount of credits the plant can, or should, receive. Additionally, there are cost containment measures in place to ensure consumer affordability, and ZEC payments would be reduced or eliminated if sufficient regional or national solutions are implemented.
The second bill would significantly expand New Jersey’s renewable portfolio standard by requiring utilities to procure 35 percent of their electricity from class 1 renewables (i.e., solar and wind) by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030. Additionally, it would boost the state’s offshore wind goal to 3,500 MW, set an energy storage target of 2,000 MW by 2030, create a community solar pilot program, and require substantial utility energy efficiency gains. The third bill would create a pilot offshore wind project – four six MW turbines to be built in federal waters off the south Jersey coast.
The suite of bills, when combined, comprise a critical step toward helping the United States achieve its long-term climate goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050. With its existing nuclear plants and its strong commitment to renewable energy, New Jersey will have in place all the elements to achieve up to 90 percent zero-emission electricity by 2030. This deep decarbonization of the electric power sector is an essential element of and companion to support increasing electrification in transportation and buildings.
As is so often the case with environmental policies, states are proving to be effective testing grounds. In addition to steps being taken in New Jersey, policymakers in New York, Illinois, and Arizona have enacted or put forth proposals to promote zero-carbon nuclear generation. Analysis from C2ES shows that we need existing nuclear and ambitious renewable deployments to work together, in order to continue to increase the domestic share of zero-emission generation without the potential of backsliding.