Midnight Friday is not just the deadline for the New York state budget to be finished. It’s also the date for an $8 billion state bailout of some upstate nuclear power plants to begin. More than 80 local government leaders are making a last ditch effort to stop a plan that they say will cost electric utility ratepayers billions of dollars.
In the summer of 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Public Service Commission announced that they’d reached a deal to provide nearly $8 billion to help Exelon, which owns two upstate nuclear power plants, buy a third one and keep them all running for another twelve years.
Cuomo announced the deal to cheering plant workers in Oswego, who would all be able to keep their relatively high-paying jobs for another dozen years.
“And keep it producing nuclear power for years and years to come,” Cuomo said, in August of 2016.
Cuomo said without the deal, the local economy would suffer. And he argued the nuclear plants output is needed as a bridge fuel to help the state reach a goal of half of all New York’s power coming from renewable sources by 2030.
The downside of the deal, say opponents, is that electric rates will go up for many rate payers in vast regions of New York.
More than 80 local government leaders, mainly from municipalities who would also have to pay the higher electric rates, came to the Capitol to ask for a moratorium on the deal, until there’s more time to study the consequences. Carl Chipman, supervisor of the town of Rochester, in Ulster County in the Hudson Valley, says the plan was enacted in a hasty and secretive manner, with no chance for the public to weigh in.
“We urge Governor Cuomo to halt the planned Public Service Commission mandate,” said Chipman, “Until a comprehensive and transparent evaluation of the available alternatives is conducted and made available for public comment.”
Jean Kessner, Syracuse City Councilor At-Large, says her city will be paying part of the estimated $2 billion in additional electric fees to help finance the bail out.
“It is not fair,” Kessner said. “If somebody sent you a bill for something you didn’t buy, you wouldn’t pay it.”
The plan has also angered some environmentalists. The New York Public Interest Research Group is one of the organizations opposed to the bailout. NYPIRG’s Blair Horner says nuclear power is not the best bridge fuel to use in achieving greener energy sources.
“It’s multi billions of dollars the state is going to spend to give to one company to keep Vietnam War-era power plants open for twelve years, and then close them down,” Horner said. "We think the money is better invested in 21st century, renewable and safe technology."
Governor Cuomo has a different policy for nuclear power plants located downstate. In January, he announced a deal to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant along the Hudson River in Westchester County by 2021.
The upstate lawmakers may already be too late however. Exelon, in a press release, announced that their takeover of the FitzPatrick Nuclear plant in Scriba has already occurred. Exelon already owns the Nine Mile Nuclear Plant in Oswego and the Ginna nuclear plant near Rochester. The company says the continued operation of the nuclear plants are a “crucial way” to keep down New York’s carbon emissions, as well as electric costs, and a “realistic” plan to meet the state’s 2030 clean energy standards.