06 Mar Critics decry nuclear subsidies at hearing
Upstate nuclear subsidies made for strange bedfellows on Monday, when an Assembly hearing saw upstate Republicans advocating for a multi-billion-dollar package of “Zero-Emission” state tax credits designed to maintain the operation of four nuclear reactors, and downstate Democrats poking holes in a program designed to help the state meet its clean-energy goals.
The controversial subsidy package, approved last year by the state Public Service Commission, is unique in that it will benefit a single company, Exelon, that now operates all four reactors — one outside Rochester, the other three near Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The subsidies are paid for by a rate increase on energy consumers statewide that’s slated to take effect in April. The package is estimated to cost $965 million over the first two years alone, according to a staff report assembled by the state Public Service Commission.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the package will help the state meet the goals of its Clean Energy Standard blueprint, which requires half of New York’s electricity to be produced by renewable sources by 2030.
Several downstate lawmakers have suggested that the statewide nature of the rate increase for a plan that would primarily benefit upstate amounted to “taxation without representation,” in the words of Assemblyman Steve Englebright.
Blair Horner of the state Public Interest Research Group, one of pointed to “a giant information hole” in the plan. “How much is it going to cost? The administration hasn’t said, other than the first two years,” he said.
Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester County, said Cuomo’s request for the PSC to approve the credits represented a potential overreach by the executive branch that the Legislature should do more to check.
“If there were discussion of a personal income tax increase of $7.6 billion, the lid would be blown off this place,” said Brodsky, now a fellow at the Demos policy think tank, using the estimated cost of the full life of the tax credits.
“The decision to keep ancient, decrepit and unnecessary nuclear plants in service is hard to justify,” Brodsky said, tweaking several of the GOP lawmakers who spoke in favor of the plan for embracing what he archly described as “a socialist exercise.”
The other side of the argument was offered by a succession of workers at the affected plants and labor leaders who praised the package as both environmentally and economically sound, and community leaders from several of the communities that host the plants.
Both the PSC and the state Energy Research Development Authority declined to send a representative to the hearing. PSC spokesman James Denn said the Assembly “only informed us of this hearing late last week and so we were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.”
PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman addressed the subsidies as well as the related issues of the planned closure of the Indian Point nuclear facility during a hearing last week.
[email protected] • 518-454-5619 • @CaseySeiler