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Clean energy plan includes ratepayer subsidy of nuke plants

ALBANY — State regulators on Monday approved a long-term clean energy plan that will include billions of dollars in ratepayers’ subsidies to three upstate nuclear plants to keep the facilities running and to avoid replacing their output with fossil fuel-burning plants.

The action guarantees up to $7 billion over the next 12 years to keep the nuclear plants afloat and avoid the loss of thousands of jobs — 1,500 in Oswego alone.

Monday’s action approves Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to transform New York’s energy grid by 2030. The goal is to derive half of the state’s energy from renewable sources, including wind and solar, while cutting fossil fuel emissions that contribute to global warming.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the average added cost statewide would be less than $2 per month.

But many environmentalists had wanted the plan to end the state’s dependency on nuclear power.

“It’s a catastrophe, a $7 billion tax increase and a bailout to the nuclear industry,” said Richard Brodsky of the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and former Assembly environmental conservation committee chairman.

“There are alternatives that reach the emissions goal without all this nonsense and the haste with which it was been done has not given anyone the chance to prove that case. This not the way you impose a $7 billion tax on the people of the state,” said Brodsky, who represented Westchester as a Democrat in the Assembly.

“It is an inappropriate, expensive and unnecessary giveaway to the corporations that own the state’s old nuclear power plants,” the good-government group Public Citizen stated. “It should be shareholders — not ratepayers — who chip in for clean, affordable and reliable energy.”

PSC commissioners noted the action was speeded up to avoid closing upstate nuclear plants, but defended the continued role of nuclear power as the state seeks to increase renewable fuels.

“It is pragmatic in recognizing the best way to meet our energy goals,” said PSC chairwoman Audrey Zibelman. She said allowing the nuclear plants to close as soon as January when the state still needs the energy isn’t a practical solution.

PSC Commissioner Diane X. Burman said the arguments for and against subsidizing the nuclear plants were heated.

“The central issue for me,” Burman said, “has always been that we are assuring that we retain and improve the reliability and resiliency of our energy grid.”

The meeting in Albany was packed over the nuclear plant provision. But PSC members tried to emphasize that the state was making history by approving the overall energy plan. The plan calls for utilities to phase in renewable energy so that it is at least 26 percent of the state total electricity load in 2017 and 30.5 percent in 2021. Currently, renewable energy is 25 percent of the mix.

“Governor Cuomo’s commitment to reach 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 is a major step forward, and will send a strong signal to attract new private investment in renewables, like wind and solar,” said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy in New York.

With Mark Harrington

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