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Groups make last-ditch effort to stop state nuke plant bailout

David Sommerstein
NCPR file photo

Midnight Friday is not just the deadline for the state budget to be finished. It’s also the date for an $8 billion bailout of some upstate nuclear power plants to begin, and more than 80 local government leaders are making a last-ditch effort to stop a plan that they say will cost electric utility ratepayers billions of dollars.

In the summer of 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Public Service Commission announced a deal to provide nearly $8 billion to help Exelon, which owns two upstate nuclear power plants, buy a third one and keep them all running for another 12 years.

Cuomo announced the deal to cheering plant workers in Oswego County, who would all be able to keep their relatively high-paying jobs for another dozen years.

“And keep it producing nuclear power for years and years to come,” Cuomo said in August 2016.

Cuomo said without the deal, the local economy would suffer. And he argued the nuclear plants’ output is needed as a bridge fuel to help the state reach a goal of half of all New York’s power coming from renewable sources by 2030.

The downside of the deal, opponents say, is that electric rates will go up for many ratepayers in vast regions of New York.

More than 80 local government leaders, mainly from municipalities who also would have to pay the higher electric rates, came to the Capitol to ask for a moratorium on the deal until there’s more time to study the consequences.

Carl Chipman, supervisor of the town of Rochester in Ulster County in the Hudson Valley, said the plan was enacted in a hasty and secretive manner with no chance for the public to weigh in.

“We urge Gov. Cuomo to halt the planned Public Service Commission mandate,” Chipman said, “until a comprehensive and transparent evaluation of the available alternatives is conducted and made available for public comment.”

Credit Karen DeWitt / WRVO News
Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner was one of many local officials in Albany lobbying against the nuclear plant bailout plan.

Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner said her city will be paying part of the estimated $2 billion in additional electric fees to help finance the bailout.

“It is not fair,” Kessner said. “If somebody sent you a bill for something you didn’t buy, you wouldn’t pay it.”

The plan also has angered some environmentalists. The New York Public Interest Research Group is one of the organizations opposed to the bailout. The group’s Blair Horner said nuclear power is not the best bridge fuel to use in achieving greener energy sources.

“It’s multi billions of dollars the state is going to spend to give to one company to keep Vietnam War-era power plants open for 12 years, and then close them down,” Horner said.

Cuomo has a different policy for downstate nuclear power plants. In January, he announced a deal to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant along the Hudson River in Westchester County by 2021.

The upstate lawmakers may be too late, however. Exelon, in a press release, announced that their takeover of the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Scriba already has occurred. Exelon already owns the Nine Mile Nuclear Plant, also in Oswego County and the Ginna nuclear plant near Rochester.

The company said the continued operation of the nuclear plants is a “crucial way” to keep down New York’s carbon emissions, as well as electric costs, and a “realistic” plan to meet the state’s 2030 clean energy standards.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.