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Long IslandPolitics

LI lawmakers criticize cost of upstate nuclear plant bailout

This is the mothballed Shoreham nuclear power plant

This is the mothballed Shoreham nuclear power plant on April 2, 2012. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Island lawmakers invoked the ghost of the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant as they criticized state officials defending Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s $7.6 billion plan to preserve upstate nuclear plants at a hearing in Albany Monday.

The long-awaited hearing came about as a result of a compromise between lawmakers and Cuomo in the state budget, and offered legislators the chance to get to ask about the costs of the program and the perceived lack of transparency in implementing it. Cuomo administration officials offered a defense of the program, saying it provides up to $9.5 billion in emissions benefits for the state.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) called the nuclear plant subsidy a “huge imposition on the ratepayers of the state” and criticized officials for failing to include its impact on Long Islanders. The Long Island Power Authority has said the Zero Emission Credit program would cost ratepayers $65 million a year, but would come down to around $45 million after LIPA receives credits for its share of Nine Mile Point II.

“You don’t mention the ones that have already been victimized by nuclear power,” Englebright said, invoking the Shoreham plant. “I’m from Long Island. We have an $8 billion burden on the backs of ratepayers because of that nuclear power plant.”

But administration officials said the loss of the nuclear plants as soon as this year would have had an immediate negative affect on emissions.

“The upstate nuclear plants provide carbon-free electricity,” and 27.96 million megawatt hours of zero-emission benefits each year, said Gregg Sayre, interim chairman of the Public Service Commission. Keeping the plants opened was “critical” to meeting state emissions reduction targets by 2030, he said.

Had they closed in early 2017, “New York would have seen an increase of up to 15 million tons of carbon dioxide” released annually, Sayre said.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) added, “Long Island ratepayers continue to pay for a nuclear plant not to be opened in their backyard, and now they’re being told that they have to pay additional funds for nuclear plants to be open in somebody else’s backyard.” He concluded, “I just think it’s unfair.”

LIPA and its board opted to comply with the state Clean Energy Standard and its Zero Emission Credit program even though LIPA is not subject to Public Service Commission jurisdiction.

Cost of the nuclear subsidy was central to legislators’ criticisms, though many were equally miffed Cuomo used the PSC rather than the legislature to enact it. The plan still faces pending lawsuits by competing power producers.

While the PSC’s Sayre acknowledged a “theoretical maximum” of $7.6 billion as the 12-year cost of the program, he said he expects the actual cost to be much lower, perhaps just $2.86 billion. Meanwhile, he said, the state will receive a $9.5 billion zero-emission benefit from the plants during that time.

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