Group asks Cuomo to oppose nuclear plant subsidies

Jul 5, 2016

More than 100 organizations across New York and the country are sending a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking the state not to subsidize nuclear power plants.

The New York Public Service Commission is considering passing a nuclear tax credit plan this summer that would aid the financially struggling nuclear plants in upstate, as Cuomo asked them to do earlier this year. It's part of his "Reforming Our Energy Vision" plan that aims to double the amount of renewable energy the state uses to 50 percent by 2030.

The plan calls for zero-emission credits would reward the plants for producing carbon dioxide-free electricity, similar to how New York subsidizes renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Supporters of the credits say the plants can help New York meet its green energy goals because they produce carbon-free electricity, but those who signed the letter, like Sierra Club member Linda DeStefano, say nuclear plants are too dangerous to keep around.

"People have been saying things like 'nuclear is a bridge to safer, renewable energy,' but if you keep saying it's a bridge and you keep re-licensing these very old, especially dangerous nuclear reactors, you're never going to get where you need to be," DeStefano said. "In the meantime, you're putting the whole upstate area in danger of a catastrophic meltdown as it happened in Fukushima, Japan."

The letter, organized by the Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE), calls for investment in renewable energy sources like wind and solar instead, but the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant in Oswego County said without these credits, they will have to close like the neighboring FitzPatrick plant plans to do next year. That would mean the loss of more than 1,600 jobs in Oswego County alone, which suffers from one of the worst unemployment rates in the state.

However, the letter contends that the money that would be used to subsidize nuclear power plants, which they estimate to be about $3.5 billion, could better be spent by subsidizing the communities losing those jobs instead.

"Instead of supporting nuclear subsidies, we respectfully request a nuclear decommissioning and just transition process that will protect the environment, retrain workers, and provide a smooth path for nuclear-reliant communities to benefit from the clean energy economy," the letter says. "We urge your administration to fight for a decommissioning process that begins immediately to clean up and isolate the dangerous radioactive materials at New York’s nuclear sites. Doing so could preserve at least half of the nuclear workforce, and would ensure that the billions of dollars already set aside for decommissioning in New York starts getting pumped into local economies. Workers not employed for decommissioning should be supported through retraining programs and transitional wage support."

They note that New York is already taking steps to mitigate the economic damage for these nuclear plant communities, by investing $30 million into a pot for lost tax revenues. And, they argue that more renewable energy jobs could be created for less money.

"For example, the planned Solar City factory in Buffalo, the 1366 Technologies factory near Rochester, and the Soraa LED lightbulb factory in Syracuse will collectively create approximately 6,420 long-term jobs," the letter says. "The state investment in these facilities will be approximately $937 million. By comparison, the nuclear subsidies in the CES could cost over $3.5 billion to preserve fewer than 2,500 nuclear jobs."

But pro-nuclear subsidy forces say that nuclear power not only sustains good jobs, it also keeps harmful emissions down. They argue that a nuclear industry without state support will wilt in the competitive energy market, be forced to shut down and eventually erase the green energy achievements New York has made as it slides back to reliance upon fossil fuels.

Earlier this year, the economic consultant firm Brattle Group found that 16 million tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the air a year if New York lost its three upstate nuclear power plants, Fitzpatrick, Rochester's Ginna and Nine Mile Point, because utilities would turn to fossil fuels like coal or natural gas to make up the difference since the infrastructure for a renewable energy substitute for power on demand isn't ready. The study, which AGREE called "propaganda," was commissioned by local nuclear power plant unions.

The authors of the letter to Cuomo rely on their own research, which they say shows "how New York can meet and even exceed its greenhouse gas emissions targets without nuclear power."