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NY Downstate Lawmakers Take Issue With Nuclear Subsidies

Letters have gone back and forth between seven state lawmakers and the chair of the New York State Public Service Commission. At issue is what the lawmakers say is an unfair statewide electric rate increase to subsidize upstate nuclear power plants.

The issue is part of the PSC’s broader Clean Energy Standard. The PSC in August issued an order adopting the standard. Since then, seven state assemblymembers have banded together to voice their concern over the adoption of the zero emissions credit pertaining to upstate nuclear power plants. The Democrats from the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and New York City have written to PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman with their objection. One is Hudson Valley Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who is chair of the Energy Committee.

“This is a deviation from how we pay for electricity,” Paulin says. “And even though we want to clearly make our air cleaner, and those nuclear plants are part of that plan so we know we have to keep them open, and the residents there depend on them for their economy, we don’t use most of the electricity that is generated, and that’s always how we’ve paid for electricity in the past.”

In the letter, the lawmakers say they object to requiring consumers who live in one region of the state to pay for electricity in another, electricity that, for the most part, they don’t use. Paulin says the letter is a response to Zibelman’s response to a September 7 letter the legislators sent regarding concerns they had about the PSC's order adopting a zero emissions credit provision. In letters to the assemblymembers, Zibelman has written that the PSC’s disagreement with the legislators is largely limited to the Commission’s approach to allocating responsibility for the costs associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and obtaining 50 percent of New York’s electricity from renewable resources by 2030. Paul Steidler is spokesman for the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance.

“The typical New Yorker’s electric bill is also 20-25 percent in taxes, and this is for a wide variety of things, for general revenue programs, for energy subsidies such as energy efficiency programs and things along those lines,” Steidler says. “The PSC has already looked at these numbers extensively and what we’re talking about here is at most a 1 to 2 percent increase.”

He says there are other ways the assemblymembers could look to cut electricity taxes. New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance counts among its members the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County. Indian Point is not considered upstate, so it’s not one of the plants that would be subsidized. Paulin says the rate increase should correlate with usage.

“And the cost implications for us downstate where we all pay… we pay the highest, highest electricity costs of anywhere in the state already,” says Paulin. “For us to bear that cost, bear that burden when we also have more than 70 percent of the poor people who live down here is just, it’s not reasonable.”

Steidler says without the zero emissions credit program, $4 billion in economic benefits will be lost over the next two years.

“So New Yorkers instead of paying a tad bit more for electricity are going to be paying $4 billion more for unemployment insurance for nuclear plant workers who are out of work, for the school revenues that are no longer being paid and for other losses in jobs and economic activity.”

For now, the dialogue between the assemblymembers and the PSC continues.

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