NJ Environmentalists Release Clean Energy Strategy

On the eve of critical decisions about New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan and a proposed license extension for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, Environment New Jersey joined public safety and environmental groups to release “Powering New Jersey’s Future: A Clean Energy Strategy for Replacing the Oyster Creek and Salem Nuclear Plants.” The report details a step-by-step plan to replace the Oyster Creek, Salem 1 and 2 nuclear power plants at the end of their current operating licenses with renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The Oyster Creek, Salem 1 and 2 plants, which pose environmental, health and safety concerns, are currently scheduled to retire between 2009 and 2020. Cumulatively, the three plants account for about 17 percent of New Jersey’s electricity generation capacity. In the next few months, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to decide on Exelon Corp.’s proposed twenty-year license extension for Oyster Creek, which, if granted, would make New Jersey home to the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the world. Although he has yet to employ them, Governor Corzine can use several regulatory tools that could necessitate the plant’s closure at the end of its current operating license in 2009. “Powering New Jersey’s Future” shows that New Jersey can retire the Oyster Creek, Salem 1 and 2 nuclear power plants without sacrificing the reliability of the state’s electricity system, without investing in significant new fossil fuel or nuclear power plant capacity, or relying on additional electricity imports from out-of-state. Specifically, the report outlines the following clean energy strategies that have the potential to fill the gap left by the Oyster Creek and Salem plant closures. Introduction New Jersey faces difficult choices about its energy future. Our electricity system is aging. Demand for electricity has been rising. The energy sources we have relied on in the past — coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power — each have large problems, ranging from environmental damage to rising and volatile fuel costs to public safety concerns. The debate over whether to retire the Oyster Creek and Salem nuclear power plants at the expiration of their operating licenses is typical of the choices facing New Jersey. Oyster Creek is the nation’s oldest operating nuclear power plant, now nearly 40 years old. Oyster Creek and Salem have experienced significant operational problems in the past, ranging from corrosion of key components to managerial failures. And in an atmosphere of heightened concern over terrorism, the location of the plants near population centers, and the problems posed by the storage of nuclear waste, make the plants far from ideal choices for supplying New Jersey’s electricity needs. But how can New Jersey replace the power that currently comes from the Oyster Creek and Salem plants — especially given its aging fossil fuel-powered generators, its already strained transmission network, and its commitment to reducing its emissions of pollutants that cause global warming? Clean energy solutions, including energy efficiency improvements, distributed electricity generation technologies and renewable power, have the potential to replace the power produced from Oyster Creek and Salem without jeopardizing the overall reliability of the state’s electricity grid. By embracing an aggressive clean energy path for the state’s future, New Jersey can reduce the need for expensive transmission upgrades, new fossil fuel plants that increase global warming emissions and costly new nuclear power plants. The clean energy path for replacing Oyster Creek and Salem laid out in this report is not an easy path. Ideally, the state should have begun the planning process for replacing power output from Oyster Creek years ago. However, because of the short time left before Oyster Creek’s 2009 retirement, the state needs to act immediately to tap its clean energy resources. New Jersey does not have the option of allowing the relicensing of Oyster Creek for a year or two while it ramps up its clean energy effort — rather, the state faces the choice of another 20 years of Oyster Creek’s operation or making aggressive efforts to reduce energy use and encourage clean energy resources now. The groundwork has already been laid for New Jersey to make this historic and important transition. New Jersey’s strong renewable energy standard and its cutting-edge initiatives to promote solar power and energy efficiency are already spurring the development of clean energy technologies within the state. With New Jersey in the midst of developing an Energy Master Plan, the time has come to plan for how we can retire Oyster Creek and Salem while still ensuring the reliability of our electric grid for the future. Clean energy solutions can and should be the centerpiece of that plan.
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