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New York agency approves FitzPatrick plant sale

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo

The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously Thursday to approve the sale of the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, an essential component to its completion. 

Entergy, the plant's owner, had been planning to shut it down because of financial losses. But the owner of the nearby Nine Mile Point Nuclear Facility, Exelon, agreed in August to purchase FitzPatrick for $110 million after the PSC  passed a massive nuclear power subsidy program. 

The commissioners based their vote on several key questions, such as Exelon's ability to operate FitzPatrick. Exelon is the largest owner of nuclear plants in the country, so those concerns were quickly dismissed. The PSC also considered whether the company would have too much influence on New York's energy market with another nuclear plant. Once the sale is completed, Exelon will own three of four nuclear plants in the state, but the PSC says that only comprises 8 percent share of the state's energy market.

Ultimately, PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman said the approval was a necessary step to achieve the state's Clean Energy Standard (CES), which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions and increase the amount of power coming from renewable sources.

"By maintaining the operation of the FitzPatrick plant, as well as the other nuclear units in the CES order, not only are we retaining thousands of jobs, we're also helping get to our goal in New York to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030."

News of the approval was met with applause from central New York officials and organizations that have been supportive of FitzPatrick's continued operation. Oswego County's Assemblyman Will Barclay said it was a critical victory for the region. 

"The approval reaffirms that thousands of jobs will remain Upstate and that New York is moving forward with a smart energy policy," Barclay said in a press release. "I’m relieved the PSC remained steadfast and was not clouded by outside agendas. We need to keep energy sources diverse and protect the vital assets we have in nuclear."

The Upstate Energy Jobs coalition, a pro-nuclear group representing more than 130 business, education and labor leaders throughout upstate and central New York, said it brings relief to the FitzPatrick's employees and the many businesses in the area that rely on the plant.

"FitzPatrick truly is an economic driver for our community, supplying 615 jobs, contributing $500 million a year in regional economic activity and bringing in $17.3 million in annual property taxes, which helps keep businesses open as well as local government and schools funded," The UEJ said in a press release. "Furthermore, FitzPatrick provides 1,000 jobs for highly skilled workers and building tradesman that are responsible for maintenance of the facility.  However, saving FitzPatrick just isn’t a win for upstate residents.  By keeping upstate nuclear plants open and passing the CES, all New Yorkers will see $1.7 billion in electricity cost savings, cleaner air, and ensure New York State stays on track to meet its’ climate objectives  according to a recent Brattle Group report."

Meanwhile, the anti-nuclear group Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) was critical of the decision on Twitter, calling it a nuclear bailout for a dirty and dangerous resource.

The FitzPatrick sale still needs federal approval and Exelon is still in negotiations with the New York Energy Research and Development agency about the details of the subsidies. Friday is the deadline to wrap up those talks. 

And looming ahead is a lawsuit filed by several energy companies against New York state's nuclear subsidy program, which could derail the deal.

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.