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Groups Call Nuke Plant Bailout a 'Tax' on Ratepayers

Cuomo tours an oil leak at the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester on October 2
Governor Cuomo's office
Cuomo tours an oil leak at the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester on October 2

Some environmental groups say Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration should reconsider an $8 billion bailout of three upstate nuclear power plants, saying the cost will be passed on to ratepayers.

Cuomo plans to transition 50 percent of the state’s power to renewable energy by 2030. Part of the program includes a multi-billion-dollar subsidy to Exelon, the company that now runs two upstate nuclear power plants — Nine Mile Point in Oswego and Ginna near Rochester — and is hoping to run a third plant, FitzPatrick, also in Oswego.

But some environmental groups, including the New York Public Interest Research Group, say ratepayers, who were not consulted about the deal, will be stuck with the bill in the form of increased utility rates.

NYPIRG’s Blair Horner said the deal will result in $2.3 billion in increased payments for residential utility customers and even more for businesses in a state that already has among the highest utility rates in the nation, according to a study by the Public Utility Law Project.

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“These charges are essentially a tax to keep aging nuclear power plants online,” Horner said.

Jessica Azulay with the Alliance for a Green Economy said the nuclear plants are “dirty” and “dangerous” and at more than 40 years old, are “antiquated” and should be shuttered.

The groups say there are better ways to get to the goal of 50 percent clean energy, such as focusing more heavily on solar and wind power.

The groups wrote a letter to Cuomo and were immediately criticized by his spokesman, Rich Azzopardi. He said nuclear energy is cleaner than the fossil fuel alternatives that would be needed to replace the power from the plants during the transition.

“It’s an absurd stance,” Azzopardi said. “It would repeal a national model to fight climate change and replace it with more expensive, dirty fuel and fracked gas.”

He said the groups’ ideas would send electric bills “skyrocketing” and put hundreds of New Yorkers out of work.

And Azzopardi pointed to another studythat shows a $4 billion benefit to New Yorkers from the governor’s plan, when carbon reduction, power supply cost savings and property taxes are taken into account.

Eric Weltman with Food and Water Watch disagrees.

“This is a national model for how not to do it,” he countered.

Cuomo talked about the importance of temporarily relying on what he calls “carbon-free” nuclear power during an appearance at the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in August. He also said a premature closure would cost good-paying jobs.

“There’d be 615 lost jobs, average wage $120,000,” Cuomo said on Aug. 9.

The governor has a different attitude about nuclear power plants downstate, where he is trying to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant near his home in Westchester.

Over the weekend, Cuomo and state environmental officials toured the Hudson River in a motorboat after a report that some oil might have spilled out of the plant. He did not tour a similar spill at the Fitzpatrick plant into Lake Ontario last summer.

Cuomo addressed that seeming contradiction in a briefing at Indian Point on Sunday, saying the difference is that the Westchester nuclear power plant is near one of the world’s largest population centers, and logistically, there can be no safe way to evacuate people if something major goes wrong.

“This plant is the closest plant on the globe to this dense a population,” Cuomo said.

Not all environmental groups are against Cuomo’s energy plan, which includes the continued use of nuclear power through the late 2020s. The Sierra Club and the Natural Resource Defense Council have endorsed the plan.

The groups against the nuclear power plant bailout have begun a grass-roots movement that they liken to the successful anti-fracking efforts that led to a state ban on the natural gas extraction process. And they say they plan to be in full force at the Public Service Commission’s meeting in November, when it will consider whether to enact the plan.