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New state proposals would aid FitzPatrick plant with state money

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

New York lawmakers are proposing policies that they hope can save struggling upstate nuclear power facilities, including Oswego County's FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, from closing.

The policies are in response to complaints from some New York lawmakers that state law doesn't currently recognize the value of nuclear power plants, which provide energy around the clock without producing harmful carbon dioxide emissions. Assemblyman Will Barclay, whose district covers the financially distressed Fitzpatrick plant, said the governor's campaign for more clean energy should include nuclear power.  

"If you want zero emissions or to cut state energy emissions by 50 percent by 2030, there’s no way you can accomplish that without including nuclear," Barclay said.

So, Barclay and state Sen. Patty Ritchie are sponsoring two bills that would use state money to keep the Fitzpatrick open. One of the bills would give FitzPatrick owner Entergy a $60-million corporate tax credit, which is how much money company officials say they would lose annually if they don't close the plant. 

"It’s a short-term bridge until we can get the policies in place to properly price nuclear power," Barclay said.

The long-term fix he wants is  a zero-carbon emission credit. This credit would  allow nuclear plants access to public money that currently supports renewable energy sources. The New York Public Service Commission (PSC), which oversees state energy policies, is also considering a zero-carbon credit. PSC deputy for markets and innovation Scott Weiner said they are looking at a state-enforced mandate that would require utilities and other electricity providers to buy a certain amount of credits, and thus power, from nuclear plants each year. The costs would then likely be passed onto rate payers as surcharges on their energy bills.

"It is a process to take the costs associated with assuring those nuclear facilities can operate and having those costs shared on an equal basis by everyone who uses electricity," Weiner said.

Weiner said if the credits are approved, they may not go into effect until next year. Fitzpatrick spokesperson Tammy Holden said that's too late for Fitzpatrick, which is slated for shut down by early 2017. 

"We do not know when the support might become effective, how much it might be, what terms and conditions would apply to receiving support, or many other important details," Holden said in a statement. "And, it appears that those details will not be addressed until later this year, at the earliest."

The PSC proposal is also receiving pushback from the Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE), which advocates on behalf of renewable sources. AGREE spokesperson Jessica Azulay said the funds that currently support wind, solar and other renewable energy sources shouldn't be spent on nuclear.

"These plants may not emit carbon emissions at the reactors, but they do generate tons of nuclear waste, which is a very toxic, radioactive problem that generations are going to be grappling with," Azulay said.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.