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Hearing On Nuclear Plant Bailout Draws Supporters And Critics, But No Cuomo Officials

Mike Groll
The Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant in Oswego, N.Y. Gov. Cuomo's plan to invest up to $7.6 billion in ratepayer subsidies over 12 years to bail out three aging plants has many critics, including environmental and conservative free market groups.

The New York State Assembly held a hearing on Governor Cuomo’s plan to spend $8 billion in subsidies to keep three upstate nuclear power plants operating for the next twelve years. But no one from the Cuomo Administration showed up.

The plan, announced last summer, is part of an overall state energy plan. Cuomo’s energy officials have said it’s part of a bridge to achieving half of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2030.

But critics, including some environmental groups, say it’s an expensive bailout for the nuclear industry that will be financed by ratepayers around the state, as well as public institutions the same ratepayers use, like the MTA and New York City’s public housing authority.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, which conducted a study detailing the potential costs of what they call a new “tax,” said, “Ultimately, the $7.7 billion will be paid by the public. In the various ways that it plays out, higher prices, higher taxes, direct increase in their utility rates.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, who chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee, agreed with Horner’s testimony. He says the additional costs could even be compounded by utility ratepayers who also use public transportation, or shop at stores that have to raise their prices due to higher electric rates. And Englebright echoed criticisms that the bailout plan was announced with virtually no public input.

“Taxation without representation is tyranny, some of our forefathers said,” said Englebright.

Representatives from Governor Cuomo’s Public Service Commission did not attend the hearing, even though they were invited by assemblymembers. A PSC spokesman says the invite came too late, and there were “scheduling conflicts,” but spokesman James Denn says the agency is submitting “extensive” written testimony. They have argued that the nuclear plants provide clean fuel while the state transitions to more renewable energy sources.   

PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman is resigning at the end of the month to take a job in Australia.

Supporters, including Exelon, the company that will own the three power plants, and local officials where the power plants are located, say losing them would have a “devastating” economic effect.

Two of the plants are located in Oswego. Its mayor, William Barlow, said in his testimony that the power plants are the “backbone” of the community.  He says the Fitzpatrick plant alone is the source of 615 good paying jobs as well as $500 million a year in regional economic activity. He says the plants also pay millions of dollars in property taxes.

Joseph Pacher, the site vice president of Ginna Nuclear Power Plant outside Rochester, says the tax money goes to local schools and towards infrastructure, like road and bridge upkeep. He says replacement power sources would be more expensive

“Not only would they lose the tax base, power prices would indeed go up if these units shut down,” Pacher said.

Governor Cuomo has a much different attitude when it comes to the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant downstate in Westchester County. His administration is on a fast track to close that plant, by 2021. And his top energy officials testified at a hearing on the proposed Indian Point closure earlier in the month.

The legislature has limited power to stop the upstate nuclear bailout, unless they introduce and pass new legislation to change the state’s energy policy, which could face a veto from the governor.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.