PSC Kingston Hearings Draw Criticism Of Proposed Plan's Nuclear Component

May 27, 2016

The New York state Public Service Commission held two public hearings Thursday in Kingston on a proposed Clean Energy Standard. Most audience members who took to the mic voiced opposition to the proposed nuclear component of the plan.

Energy issues were front of mind on a hot and humid day with an air quality action alert in force. Following an hour-long informational session, 12 speakers took to the podium during the first of two public hearings held in Kingston. The Public Service Commission has proposed a requirement that utilities and energy supply companies procure a percentage of their electricity from three tiers. Tier 1 consists of existing renewables, such as solar and wind. Tier 2 is new renewable generation and Tier 3 contains existing nuclear power resources. The majority of public speakers voiced opposition to Tier 3, including Democratic Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner.

“The most ridiculous thins is the Ginna and FitzPatrick plants were supposed to close anyway,” says Tyner. “So why in God’s name has the governor’s Department of Public Service proposing that the ratepayers subsidize these plants.”

Public speakers were in greater number at the evening session and, also, for the most part, opposed Tier 3. Carl Mas is director of Energy & Environmental Analysis at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA.

“Staff put together a white paper, which came out earlier this year, which articulated what might be the avenues of which we could go about implementing a CES, Clean Energy Standard,” Mas says. “Supplemental to that, NYSERDA led, with staff, a cost study which looked at might be the costs and key cost drivers of paying for all those resources.”

The cost study estimates that New York can meet its clean energy targets with a less than 1 percent increase for electricity bills, which amounts to less than $1 per month for the typical residential customer. The proposed Clean Energy Standard arises from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive in December 2015 that PSC create such a standard to meet a target of 50 percent renewable electricity supply by 2030. Tyner and others say this goal is weak, that the state’s target should be 100 percent fossil-fuel free by 2030. Town of Rosendale councilwoman Jennifer Metzger is co-founder of Ulster County-based Citizens for Local Power.

“And nuclear power is not a renewable source. It doesn’t belong in the Clean Energy Standard and people feel like it was slipped into it,” says Metzger. “And this is actually this initiative is something that should be celebrated by everyone. We’re all strongly supportive of clean renewable energy in the Hudson Valley. And if you’d just remove that Tier 3, you’d hear rounds of applause because this is the direction that we all believe we have to go to address climate, to address and prevent the further build out of fossil-fuel infrastructure in our communities.”

And it was Cuomo, who in a December letter to the Department of Public Service commissioner, wrote, that in developing the standard, additional attention needs to be given to ensure emissions free resources of electricity remain operational, referring to upstate nuclear facilities. Central Hudson Spokesman John Maserjian did not offer public comment but attended the hearings to gather information, with a concern in mind.

“We do see a need for what we call baseload generation, or generation that’s consistent, that’s able to fill in when renewable energy does not because, at the moment, renewable energy systems are intermittent. Solar doesn’t produce at night or on cloudy days. Wind doesn’t produce when the wind does not blow,” Maserjian says. “So we need some sort of a backup, some sort of a consistent baseload generation system that will fill in those times or provide a consistent energy source for around the clock. That’s our concern, to make sure that that is available for our customers.”

He says Central Hudson does not favor nuclear or non-nuclear to be that consistent source. Maserjian says improvements to the bulk electric transmission system will be necessary to help meet the state's clean energy goals, to transport renewable sources of energy from production areas to the areas of highest electrical demand.

The proposed Clean Energy Standard is part of Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV. Public hearings in seven locations, including Albany and Plattsburgh, preceded the Kingston session. The PSC’s final public hearing was slated for New York City May 31, but another hearing is expected to be added in mid-June in Westchester County.