A legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Last week, Central New York received great news when, at its meeting in Albany, the state Public Service Commission adopted a plan to help Upstate New York’s struggling nuclear power plants.
As most people in Oswego County know, our nuclear power plants (FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Units 1 and 2) have been struggling economically because of low natural gas prices.
Indeed, last fall, Entergy, the owner of the FitzPatrick plant, announced that it would shutter the plant.
Exelon, the owner of Nine Mile 1 and 2 and Ginna in Wayne County, also said that without help from the state that they would likely also have to close their plants.
The plan that the PSC adopted, known as the Clean Energy Standard, will provide nuclear power producers a subsidy, which initially is expected to be approximately $17 a megawatt-hour.
The PSC justifies this subsidy on the fact that nuclear plants can reliably generate electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without emitting CO2.
It should be noted that in NYS, various renewable energy sources like wind and solar are already subsidized to the tune of more than $20 a megawatt-hour and these subsidies are scheduled to continue under the Clean Energy Standard.
This is in addition to the incentives provided at the federal level for renewables.
With this plan in place, Exelon has indicated that if it can reach a deal with Entergy, it will buy the FitzPatrick plant and keep it operational.
It also has indicated that it will continue operations at Nine Mile 1 and 2 and at Ginna.
This means that thousands of good paying jobs will be saved, businesses that rely on the plants and their employees will be able to continue to operate, and that our Central New York property tax base will not be considerably depleted as would have happened if the plants closed.
It has been reported that our upstate nuclear plants contribute an estimated $2.5 billion to the state’s gross domestic product.
There are reasons, other than simply the Central New York economy, why we New Yorkers should cheer the adoption of the Clean Energy Standard.
One is that by protecting New York’s nuclear industry and fostering renewable energy sources, the state is ensuring that New York’s electricity generating portfolio is diverse.
If New York becomes over reliant on one energy source, such as natural gas, when the price of that energy source increases (which inevitably it will), New Yorkers potentially could pay far more in energy costs than whatever amount of subsidy is paid pursuant to the Clean Energy Standard.
In fact, residents in Vermont have seen their electricity rates increase substantially just one year after the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant because they lack diversity in generation.
Another reason is the environment.
While people may disagree on whether global warming is man-made, to the extent it is a problem or even to the extent that New York, acting alone, can have any impact on our climate, there is no disagreement that the excessive emission of CO2 is harmful to our environment.
Upstate nuclear plants supply 18% of the state’s electricity.
If these plants were to close, we would have to get our electricity from other sources.
Because renewables, at this time, simply do not produce enough electricity to make up for the loss of nuclear, it is likely that New York would have to get its electricity from generators that use fossil fuels.
Doing so would be the equivalent of releasing an additional 26 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, that equates to nearly 5 million cars on the road.
The Clean Energy Standard is good public policy for New York State.
The recognition that nuclear power plays an essential role in meeting our carbon reduction goals and is necessary to meet the energy demands of New Yorkers is forward-thinking and groundbreaking.
To get to this stage it has taken a team effort.
We can be proud that many people locally who, working in concert, led the charge.
The Governor, Senator Patty Ritchie, the Upstate Energy Jobs Coalition (made up of local officials, businesses and labor) and many others should be acknowledged and thanked for their efforts in getting to this stage.
I know I am proud of what has been accomplished and especially pleased that New York’s energy future will include nuclear power.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.
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.