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Don’t be Fooled by Latest Effort to Stop the Clean Energy Standard

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Over the last few weeks, certain self-proclaimed environmental groups have begun an all-out effort to convince the legislature to overturn New York’s newly adopted Clean Energy Standard.

The CES is a landmark policy adopted last year by the NYS Public Service Commission with the support of Governor Cuomo, various state legislators (including myself), business groups, environmentalists, and labor organizations.

On its most basic level, the CES will provide financial incentives to nuclear and other carbon-free electricity generators such as wind and solar.

Without the CES and its accompanying financial incentives, also known as zero-emission credits, the upstate Nuclear plants would close, thousands of jobs would be lost, our electric bills would increase and the environment would be harmed due to the substantially increased reliance on electricity generated from fossil fuels (i.e., natural gas, oil and coal).

If the closure of the Upstate nuclear plants is bad for the environment, one might ask why these certain “environmental” groups oppose the CES.

This is a good question, after all, the operation of the upstate nuclear plants avoids putting approximately 16 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.

Closures of nuclear plants elsewhere have resulted in increased CO2 emissions.

For example, after the Yankee Nuclear Plant in Vermont was closed, Vermont saw its CO2 emissions substantially increase because the state had to replace that lost generation with output from natural gas-fired generators.

This increase of CO2 emissions was the equivalent of adding 650,000 passenger cars to the roads.

Germany also had a similar experience after it shut down its fleet of nuclear plants several years ago.

Is this what the groups opposed to the CES intend for New York State?

Another question that those who oppose the CES have trouble answering is if the Upstate nuclear plants are closed, where is NYS going to get the replacement power.

Currently, 31% of all electric energy production in NYS comes from nuclear.

The “environmentalist” who are advocating against the CES claim that renewable energy can make up the difference.

Their facts to support this, however, are severely lacking.

New York has been a strong supporter of renewable energy.

Indeed, state taxpayers have provided billions of dollars of subsidies to the renewable industry over the last decade.

Even with those subsidies, wind and solar make up less than 5% of the NYS electricity output.

It will take years and billions of additional dollars to site enough renewable energy generators to even get close to the electricity output we currently have with our Upstate nuclear plants.

Furthermore, renewable energy generation is intermittent – that is, it is not a constant source of electrical generation.

Windmills can only produce electricity when the wind is blowing.  Solar panels can only produce electricity when the sun is shining.

New Yorkers however expect to be able to turn on their lights when it is dark, run their computer when they are needed and keep their refrigerators running at all times.

Even if New York could in a very short time period substantially increase its electrical generation from wind and solar we still would need those baseload generators (like nuclear) who can produce even when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.

Lastly, anti-CES groups have claimed that the program is too expensive.

In the aggregate, there is no doubt that the program is expensive.

It is predicted that the ZECs will total approximately $900 million in the first two years.

However, the closing of the upstate nuclear plants will cost New Yorkers more.

As we know from past experience, when NYS is too reliant on one source of energy generation, which would happen if our nuclear plants were to close, ratepayers end up paying more for power.

A study by the Brattle Group indicates that NYS electricity consumers would be subject to approximately $15 billion of additional electricity costs over the next 12 years if the plants were to close.

Conservatively speaking, this equates to $4 or more per month for the average household’s energy bill.

This amount is double what ratepayers will pay to help keep the plants open.

In addition, New York State and central New York specifically would lose approximately $3 billion per year in economic activity that results from the operation of our nuclear plants and $144 million in state and local taxes – not to mention the loss of employment for the thousands who work at the plants.

It is ironic that the various anti-CES groups are complaining about the cost of the ZECs but at the same time advocating for additional subsidies for wind and solar.

The cost of the subsidies for wind and solar on a MWh basis are much higher than what is being proposed for nuclear under the CES and, with nuclear, you get clean, reliable, and consistent generation of power, something that wind and solar simply cannot provide.

The Public Service Commission, after hearing from interested parties and holding public hearings throughout the state, took steps to protect the environment, NYS taxpayers and the economy by adopting the CES.

New Yorkers should not be fooled by those who, in seeking to push their limited agenda, want to derail the CES.

The CES and its accompanying ZECs is good public policy for all of New York State.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.

You also can friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.