Lawmakers tread murky details of nuclear bailout debate

By Anna Gronewold, Associated Press

New York lawmakers are searching for guidance as they wade through hazy details of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's multibillion-dollar decision to rescue three waning upstate nuclear power plants.

 

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers are searching for guidance as they wade through hazy details of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's multibillion-dollar decision to rescue three waning upstate nuclear power plants.

Senators and assembly members at a public hearing Monday denounced the absence of representatives from the Public Service Commission — which approved the landmark bailout in August — to walk them through how and why ratepayer money should be used to preserve the failing plants.

The commission responded in a statement saying late notice prevented the agency from sending representatives to the hearing. The commission submitted written testimony arguing the program will ultimately aid ratepayers by keeping costs low and emissions down.

"Were New York's safely operating nuclear fleet to close prematurely, old and new dirty fossil fuel generation would replace the emission-free nuclear power, with consumers footing the bill," the Commission wrote.

Cuomo has said keeping the decades-old plants open will allow the state to rely on nuclear energy sources in the coming years as the state gears up to transition half of its power to renewable sources, such as wind, solar and hydroelectric, by 2030.

Opponents accused the governor-appointed commission of shrouding the entire decision process in secrecy and questioned whether it considered middle-ground proposals to meet Cuomo's clean energy goals.

Nuclear watchdog group Alliance for a Green Economy says the program will cost ratepayers an estimated $7.6 billion.

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the organization is most concerned with the speed with which the project slid through the approval process in August.

"The most outrageous part of this from our point of view is that the public was shut out, but they're going to pay for the tab," Horner said. "And they're not even going to know."

Experts estimate electricity consumers will pay on average about $2 more per month to raise the money. Horner said already-struggling public agencies with enormous electricity costs, such as hospitals and schools and public transportation, could see increases up to $112 million in the first two years of the program.

The commission held 24 public hearings last spring and reviewed 14,000 public comments on a subsidy program, said spokesman James Denn.

Jessica Azulay, program director for Alliance for Green Economy, said those hearings in May were based on an entirely different proposal, estimated to cost as little as $59 million to $68 million during the first two years. Azulay said the proposal ultimately approved wasn't released until July.

Denn said the commission has estimated a cost of $1 billion in the first two years but cannot comment on the $7.6 billion estimates due to fluctuating social costs of carbon.

But local authorities and plant workers upstate urged lawmakers to go through with the bailout, saying those costs are a small price for stoking economic activity in struggling regions. Economic consulting group Brattle found that nuclear power plants contribute to 25,000 jobs statewide and $144 million in state tax revenues.

Brian Urquhart, business manager for union advocate Insulators 26 in Rochester, said he has worked in nuclear plants and laughed at opponents' claims that nuclear power plants are outdated and unsafe. Urquhart said unless the power plants are propped up with state money, the state would never be able to achieve its renewable energy goals.

"You can't take these offline and replace them with renewable energies, just like that. You just can't. You'll have blackouts like you've never seen," Urquhart said.

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