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Crucial vote for nuclear subsidies scheduled to take place today

Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Nuclear facilities like Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Wayne County may close if the New York Public Service Commission rejects a nuclear subsidy program Monday.

The fate of upstate New York's nuclear power plants could be decided today. The state's Public Service Commission (PSC) will vote on a massive nuclear power subsidy program that several plant owners say they need to survive and what anti-nuclear forces call a wasteful investment in a dangerous power source.

At the heart of the question before the PSC is what role does nuclear power play in the state's trek toward a greener, cleaner future. Nuclear is not renewable and it's not exactly clean, but it does have one major strength: it does not emit carbon dioxide. So public officials like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wants to cut carbon emissions nearly in half over the next 14 years, have embraced nuclear. That has given central New York representatives like state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Oswegatchie) the tools they need to save the many jobs that nuclear power supports.

"We can't get to the levels by 2030 without nuclear power," Ritchie said. "So for those that believe in clean energy, this is something they should be supporting."

The state has proposed a plan to invest $965 million into New York's four nuclear power plants over the next two years. And unless the energy market bounces back, those subsidies would continue to grow through the next decade. But not everyone wants the state to pick up that check. Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Pearl River)  questions why New York's goal of doubling its renewable energy sources now includes an investment of several billion dollars into a limited resource like nuclear.

"Really, this was about supporting large scale renewable energy. That’s what this concept was," Jaffee said. "And then suddenly, it gets turned around and it’s about subsidizing the nuclear industry."

Jaffee is also upset with the short amount of time the PSC has given the public to respond to the plan. It released details on its proposal earlier this month, much to the chagrin of the groups working to squander the plan. 

"I was surprised that this was done so suddenly without the interaction and knowledge of the legislature so that we could have a good dialogue," Jaffee said.

But the quick pace is largely in response to nuclear plant operators. Exelon, owner of the Nine Mile Point and Ginna nuclear facilities, is currently in negotiations to buy the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, which is scheduled for closure next year. Company officials say in order to make the financial commitments necessary to refuel their plants, and potentially FitzPatrick if the deal is successful, they need a decision by today.

"We definitely encourage the PSC to finalize the CES [Clean Energy Standard] in a timely manner," said Exelon spokesperson Jill Lyon.

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.