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Suffolk Closeup: Get ready to start bailing out NY’s aging nuclear plants

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People in Patchogue and the rest of Suffolk County and New York State will be getting higher utility bills because of the state Public Service Commission’s approval last week —despite strong opposition — of a $7.6 billion bailout of aging nuclear power plants in upstate New York.

The plants owners have said they are uneconomic to run without government support.

As a result, there will be a surcharge for 12 years on electric bills paid by residential and industrial customers.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appoints the Public Service Commission members, has called for the continued operation of the nuclear plants in order to, he says, save jobs at them.

The bailout would be part of a “Clean Energy Standard” advanced by Cuomo.

Under this, 50 percent of electricity used in New York by 2030 would come from “clean and renewable energy sources,” with nuclear power considered clean and renewable.

“Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable,” testified Pauline Salotti of Patchogue, vice chair of the Green Party of Suffolk at recent hearing in Riverhead on the plan.

“Without these subsidies, nuclear plants cannot compete with renewable energy and will close. But under the guise of ‘clean energy,’ the nuclear industry is about to get its hands on our money in order to save its own profits, at the expense of public health and safety,” declared a statement by Jessica Azulay, program director of Alliance for a Green Economy, based in Syracuse with a chapter in New York City.

The “Clean Energy Standard” earmarks twice as much money for the nuclear power subsidy than it does for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Its claim is that nuclear power is comparable because nuclear plants don’t emit carbon or greenhouse gasses — the key nuclear industry argument for nuclear plants nationally and worldwide these days because of climate change.

What the industry does not mention, however, is that the “nuclear cycle” or “nuclear chain” — the full nuclear system — is a major contributor to carbon emissions.

Numerous statements sent to the New York Public Service Commission on the plan pointed to this.

“Nuclear is not emission-free!” Manna Jo Greene, environmental director of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, wrote the Public Service Commission. “The claim of nuclear power having ‘zero-emission attributes’ ignores emissions generated in mining, milling, enriching, transporting and storing nuclear fuel.”

“Nuclear power is not carbon-free,” wrote Michel Lee, head of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy. “If one stage,” reactor operation itself, “produces minimal carbon…every other stage produces prodigious amounts.” Thus the nuclear “industry is a big climate change polluter…Nuclear power is actually a chain of highly energy-intensive industrial processes which—combined—consume large amounts of fossil fuels and generate potent warming gasses. These include: uranium mining, milling enrichment, fuel fabrication, transport” and her list went on.

In opposing the New York nuclear subsidy, Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, wrote in an op-ed in Albany Times Union, the newspaper in the state’s capitol, that he was “shocked” by the Public Service Commission’s “proposal that the lion’s share of the Clean Energy Standard funding would be a nuclear bail-out.”

He said “allowing the upstate nuclear plants to close now and replace them with equal energy output” from offshore wind and solar power “would be cheaper and would create more jobs.”

The closure of the upstate plants “would jeopardize fewer than 2,000 jobs” while a “peer-reviewed study” he has done “about converting New York State to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, which is entirely possible now, would create a net of approximately 82,000 good, long-term jobs.”

The upstate nuclear power plants to be bailed out under the plan would be FitzPatrick, Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 and Ginna.

Reported Tim Knauss of the Post-Standard of Syracuse: “Industry watchers say New York would be the first state to establish nuclear subsidies based on environmental attributes, a benefit typically reserved for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.”

Cuomo “directed the PSC to create subsidies for upstate reactors,” he wrote.

Reuters has reported that the nuclear “industry hopes that if New York succeeds, it could pressure other states to adopt similar subsides” for nuclear plants.

The Reuters story: New York could show the way to rescue U.S. nuclear plants

The two Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City are not now included in the plan but it “leaves the door open to subsidies” for them, says Azulay.

This would mean “the costs [of the bailout] will rise to over $10 billion.”

A Suffolk County resident, former state assemblywoman Patricia Acampora of Mattituck, joined the other three members of the PSC in voting Aug. 1 for the bailout and “Clean Energy Standard.”

She is also ex-chairwoman of the Suffolk Republican Party. Cuomo is a Democrat.


Photo: View of the Robert Emmett Ginna Nuclear Power Plant on the south shore of Lake Ontario at Ontario, New York. Circa 1974. Source: Department of Energy

About the author: Karl Grossman

Karl Grossman has been a Suffolk County-based reporter since 1962. As well as practicing journalism, he teaches it as a full professor at the State University of New York College at Westbury. He has received many honors for his journalism including the George Polk Award, and has been inducted into the Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame of the Press Club of Long Island. He is the author of six books and is the host of the nationally-aired TV program “Enviro Close-Up.” His email address is kgrossman@hamptons.com.