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Proposed nuclear subsidies could save upstate power plants

Payne Horning
WRVO News File Photo

Entergy, the owner of the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, has confirmed thatit is in talks with Exelon, which owns Oswego County's Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant, to buy and operate FitzPatrick, which is scheduled to be closed in January because of financial troubles.

This comes just days after the New York Public Service Commission published its long-awaited plan to subsidize nuclear power plants, a key part of the governor's plan to move away from fossil fuels and toward energy producers like nuclear that don't emit carbon dioxide. The proposal calls for an investment of $965 million into the four aging nuclear plants between 2017 and 2019. It's already drawn the praise of the pro-nuclear forces in upstate New York, like the Upstate Energy Jobs Coalition. Ted Skerpon represents employees at Fitzpatrick.

"I'm elated that they finally have realized that this is what is needed," Skerpon said.

The funding could come just in time for plants like FitzPatrick and Nine Mile, which are on the brink of closure. State officials say subsidizing those plants will actually save New York money in the long run, not just in jobs but also environmentally. The PSC estimates that New York will realize $4 billion when you factor in the social carbon cost.

Syracuse University professor Charles Driscoll, who studied the effects of the social carbon cost in a 2014 study, describes it as the price applied to the consequences of harmful power plant emissions.

"Some of them are health benefits, reduced hospital visits, mortalities related to air health effects, some of them are problems with infrastructure," Driscoll said. "A whole host of issues."  

But not everyone is convinced that the pros of keeping nuclear plants afloat outweigh their cons. Alliance For a Green Economy (AGREE) spokesperson Jessica Azulay notes that the latest PSC proposal is a major increase in the subsidy price from an April report where the state proposed spending only $270 million dollars through 2030.

"By my calculations, this means for every $1 that the clean energy standard puts toward renewable energy between now and 2030, they’d be putting $2 toward this nuclear bailout," Azulay said. "This is no longer a clean energy standard, this is now a nuclear subsidy program."

PSC officials say they will adopt or reject the plan by the end of summer. They are accepting comments on the subsidy proposal through July 18.

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.