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Nuclear subsidy program entangled in state budget talks

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in August 2016 to celebrate the news that Exelon would buy the ailing facility and keep it open with financial support from the state.

New York's subsidy program to support financially impaired nuclear power plants has been caught up in the budget negotiations as some lawmakers are trying to halt the program right before it begins. 

The plan, which is part of New York's efforts to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, was unanimously passed by state regulators last year.

When the Assembly conducted a hearing on the nuclear subsidy program earlier this month, no one showed up from the governor's office or the New York state Public Service Commission (PSC). That's why the Assembly's version of the budget calls for a moratorium on the initiative until those state officials testify.

Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter (D-Syracuse) says too many questions remain, especially considering that New York rate payers will foot the bill for the subsidies.

"I have received hundreds -- not fifty or a hundred -- hundreds of emails from constituents who live in my district alone who said, 'Say no, this is not something we want to support' and it’s based on the fact that there’s no information," Hunter said. 

Hunter wants to know more about how it compares to other clean-energy projects and the $7.6 billion estimate that some organizations have claimed the program will cost during its 12-year lifetime. 

"Is $7 billion too much? Not enough? I have no idea," Hunter said. "The PSC is the gatekeeper. We’re asking them – you’re the steward of this, figure it out and relay it back to us." 

The PSC has sent written testimony about the program to the Assembly, and their official "conservative price forecast" is $2.8 billion. New York state energy czar Richard Kauffman says providing any more public testimony on the program is not possible right now since there are lawsuits filed against the initiative.

Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) says there is plenty of information available to legislators on the program, noting that state officials toured the state last year in a public education campaign. He thinks this is merely a political play by Assembly Democrats.

"Some people legitimately want to hear from the PSC, I think other people just want to stop the whole program down completely because they’re anti-nuclear and they want to shut all nuclear plants down in New York state," Barclay said. 

This comes as Exelon is about to finalize its purchase of the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Barclay's district, a deal that's contingent on the state's financial support. But the Assembly's plan would face a likely veto from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who championed the nuclear subsidies.

What does concern Barclay, however, are several lawsuits challenging the subsidies. Oral arguments for a motion to dismiss one case are scheduled for today.

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.