New York Adopts Nuclear Subsidy That Could Save Power Plants

Aug 1, 2016

The Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego.
Credit Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has adopted a 12-year plan to support the state's financially impaired nuclear power plants. 

The Clean Energy Standard (CES), a component of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's initiative to double the state's renewable energy providers and cut carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, was approved unanimously at a meeting in Albany Monday.

The four nuclear power plants were added to the CES because they currently produce a third of New York's carbon dioxide-free energy. PSC Commissioner Gregg Sayre said the loss of those plants would set the state back on its clean energy initiative.

"I do not see any way that we could quickly replace the output of the upstate nuclear plants with renewable energy," Sayre said. "Realistically, we would need to produce more natural gas and probably build more natural gas generating stations than we would otherwise need if the nuclear plants close down in the near future and I don't think that's the result we want."

Leaders in Oswego County, which is home to the FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point nuclear plants, were jubilant over the news. Both of the plants are at risk of closing because of stiff competition from natural gas and oil.

"It’s a relief for them [FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point employees]," said Ted Skerpon, who represents employees from the two plants. "As they know though, there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s not a done deal. We need to make sure that we continue to knock on doors and educate, but they were a little relieved that now here’s something in the tool kit that can be used to help us secure our jobs and our future."

The work left to do though is mainly in the hands of two private companies. Entergy is in negotiations to sell FitzPatrick, which it had wanted to close in 2017, to Exelon, owner of Nine Mile and the Ginna Nuclear Plant nearby Rochester. That could save the 615 jobs at FitzPatrick, but Tim Judson with the Nuclear Information and Resource Center said New York actually hasn't saved any jobs.

"All the state is doing is kicking the can down the road," Judson said. "These nuclear power plants are going to close down sooner or later and the state has done nothing to deal with the long-term economic fortunes of Oswego and Wayne Counties."

Wayne County is home to Ginna. Judson's group and other environmentalists criticized the PSC's decision because they say it takes away money from New York's goal of doubling its renewable energy providers.

"They're locking New Yorkers in to paying subsidies for these aging nuclear plants through 2029 for a cost of $7.6 billion," Judson said. "That’s a massive, massive subsidy and there's nothing about supporting an old nuclear plant that puts solar panels on people's houses, that develops any renewable energy in the state."

But the PSC commissioners defended the cost, saying that a diversified energy portfolio is important for keeping prices down and ensuring reliability. 

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