SCRIBA, NY — While the Trump administration’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is at the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Scriba today (Aug. 1) after saying it’s time to “make nuclear energy cool again,” New York environmental and consumer groups are calling on New York Governor Cuomo to reverse the decision, made exactly two years ago today, to force New York ratepayers, even those who opt into 100% renewables, to subsidize nuke plants such as FitzPatrick.
On August 1, 2016 Governor Cuomo’s appointed regulators at the Public Service Commission voted to lock New York consumers into a 12-year, estimated $7.6 billion bailout plan for the failing nuclear reactors in upstate New York. The subsidies amount to approximately $1.3 million per day. At present writing the nuclear subsidies already collected from New York ratepayers under the program amount to mire than $644 million and counting.
The nuclear bailout decision was part of a larger policy called the Clean Energy Standard, which purportedly will bring New York to 50% renewable energy by 2030. However, recent data filed by the state shows that despite the promise that the policy would accelerate renewable energy, 99% of the money collected from consumers during 2017 to pay for the program went to prop up nuclear reactors, which are neither renewable, nor clean.
The Trump administration has since taken up the call to subsidize struggling power plants, proposing what would likely be billions of dollars in consumer subsidies for uneconomical coal and nuclear plants across the country. Perry toured FitzPatrick and participated in a closed door round table.
“New York State electric consumers are reeling from the shock of discovering we spent over 99% of the money collected from us during the first year of the Clean Energy Standard to prop up four aging nuclear reactors owned by out of state Exelon Corporation and less than 1% on adding renewable energy to New York’s energy mix,” said Andra Leimanis, Director of Communications for Alliance for Green Economy. “It adds insult to injury that DOE Secretary Perry is in Scriba on the anniversary of Governor Cuomo’s Public Service Commission’s approval of this disastrous nuclear bailout.”
Renewable energy has been gaining steam across the U.S. and energy prices have been dropping.
Unable to compete in competitive energy markets, nuclear and coal operators have sought controversial bailouts from state and federal governments. New York is among a small number of states that have approved nuclear subsidies at the request of industry and over the objections of thousands of their residents.
The subsidies in New York force consumers to pay for nuclear energy even when they buy 100% renewable energy from a green supplier, and the subsidies suck up money that could be put toward growing renewable energy.
“While Governor Cuomo loves to position himself as the foil to President Trump, he’s in lock-step agreement with the president’s support for reckless corporate giveaways to the dirty nuclear industry,” said Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director of Food & Water Watch.“We’ve come to expect this kind of wrong-headed support for dirty energy from Washington, but New Yorkers demand more of Governor Cuomo. Instead of focusing on transitioning to renewable energy, Cuomo seems determined to waste billions propping up the dying nuclear industry.”
“Secretary Perry coming to New York’s bailed out FitzPatrick plant shows what a dirty deal it was to force consumers to subsidize that failing industry,” said Jessica Maxwell, an organizer with Syracuse Peace Council. “Whichever way you slice it, giving billions of dollars in ratepayer-funded subsidies to prop up aging, uneconomical nuclear power plants is a bad idea. New York’s $7.6 billion nuclear bailout proved to be a massive waste of money in less than a year. The prices of renewable energy credits are already lower than nuclear credits, and New Yorkers spent 200 times more to subsidize four old reactors than to support renewable energy. If you want to know what a bad idea the Trump administration’s national bailout would be, just look at New York and multiply it by 50 states.”
Filings by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) show that nuclear energy received 99.8% of funds collected from electricity consumers through the so-called Clean Energy Standard program in 2017.
Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable.
The Clean Energy Standard was approved on August 1, 2016 and went into effect on April 1, 2017. It was created at the direction of Governor Cuomo, and sold to New Yorkers as a necessary strategy for meeting the state’s renewable energy goals. But after members of the administration reportedly met behind closed doors with the owners of the state’s nuclear fleet, the policy came to include a hefty 12-year subsidy for four aging and unprofitable nuclear reactors in upstate New York,
How hefty is the subsidy? NYSERDA’s filings reveal that in the first nine months of the program, electricity consumers were charged $354,220,000 via surcharges on their monthly bills to prop up those nuclear reactors in 2017.
At the same time, the program collected just $724,000 for renewable energy. That works out to 99.8% for nuclear energy and less than 1% for renewables.
The 2017 accounting was reported by NYSERDA to the Public Service Commission in a filing on April 5, 2018. The quantity of renewable energy to be purchased by the program is expected to rise every year, but the costs to subsidize the nuclear reactors are expected to annually rise, too.
The late addition of the nuclear subsidy to the Clean Energy Standard was controversial at the time and has been increasingly opposed by New Yorkers as its true cost becomes clear.
The subsidy costs New York electricity ratepayers an estimated $1.3 million per day, which is paid to Illinois-based Exelon Corporation, the largest nuclear company in the U.S, and other co-owners of the upstate nuclear plants. The subsidy is supposed to last 12 years, and will ultimately funnel as much as $7.6 billion to Exelon and its shareholders.
More than 800,000 New Yorkers are currently behind on their energy bills because rates in New York are so high; the nuclear subsidy just digs a deeper hole of debt for them. And it’s not just residential ratepayers who are footing the subsidy bill; it’s also being paid by businesses, municipalities, school districts, the MTA, and housing authorities.
Struggling school districts across the state desperately lack funds, yet they are being saddled with surcharges between $8 million and $23 million annually, according to estimates from the Public Utility Law Project. Many New York City Housing Authority residents were without heat during the 2017-2018 winter due to disrepair of heating systems, yet they were forced to pay their share of the nuclear bailout to the tune of $1 million in its first year.
Public records show that Exelon spent $426,000 on lobbying in New York during the two years leading up to the decision to grant them the subsidy, and that investment has turned out to have yielded Exelon an enormous return.
Exelon reportedly met regularly with Cuomo administration officials as state regulators developed the Clean Energy Standard.