After Rick Perry Visits FitzPatrick and Touts Nuclear Subsidies in NY, Groups Call on Cuomo to Exempt Renewable Energy Purchasers From Subsidizing Failing Nuclear Plants
Nuclear subsidies have already cost New York ratepayers an estimated $650 million.
[Syracuse, NY -- August 6, 2018] Days after US Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited New York‘s FitzPatrick nuclear plant and praised New York Governor Cuomo for subsidizing nuclear energy, 136 organizations, businesses, and elected officials are letting the Governor know how unpopular the forced nuclear bailout policy is and are calling on him to amend it.
In a sign-on letter spearheaded by Alliance for Green Economy (AGREE New York) and sent to Governor Cuomo and the Chair of the Public Service Commission John Rhodes today, they said, “New Yorkers should not be forced to buy nuclear power or support aging reactors via charges on their utility bills if they are willing to buy 100% renewable energy.” The letter calls on the Cuomo administration to make good on a two-year old promise to correct problems in New York’s Clean Energy Standard (CES) which forces even those electricity customers who opt into 100% renewables purchasing programs to subsidize failing nuclear plants.
Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard was approved by the Public Service Commission and publicly announced on August 1, 2016. Secretary Perry visited the FitzPatrick nuclear plant on August 1, 2018, the second anniversary of that announcement. Ostensibly, the Clean Energy Standard policy was designed to move New York toward its commitment of getting 50% of its energy from renewables by 2030.
But nuclear energy is not clean or renewable. Including it as a category (known as “Tier 3”) in the so-called Clean Energy Standard has created a perverse situation where all New York electricity customers are forced to bail out aging, dangerous nuclear plants. Most of the money collected so far under CES has been spent on nuclear subsidies rather than renewables. The nuclear subsides are projected to total $7.6 billion over twelve years.
These subsidies are propping up uneconomical, dangerous nuclear reactors in upstate New York which would otherwise close – FitzPatrick, Ginna, and Nine Mile Point units 1 and 2. These reactors are all owned or co-owned by Exelon Corporation of Illinois, the largest utility and largest operator of nuclear plants in the US, which gets the overwhelming majority of this money. Since the Clean Energy Standard policy went into effect on April 1, 2017, ratepayers have lined Exelon’s pockets with an estimated $650 million in extra costs on their electric bills. To add insult to injury, even customers who choose to purchase 100% clean renewable energy are being forced to subsidize these nuclear plants.
At the same time, the way the Clean Energy Standard currently structures some of the “renewable energy credits” has the perverse effect of cancelling out the impetus customers who opt into renewables purchasing programs would otherwise give to renewables demand. Their renewables purchase gets credited to the utility, effectively allowing the utility to reduce its own renewable purchasing obligation by the same amount. The net effect on renewables demand is a wash.
These are the opposite effects of what ratepayers who opt into 100% renewable energy programs intend and expect. Today’s sign-on letter asks the Cuomo administration to correct these problems. “New Yorkers who wish to purchase 100% renewable energy should be able to do so in a way that pushes the State further and faster toward a phase-out of all polluting and dangerous fuels,” the letter said.
When it issued the Clean Energy Standard two years ago, the Public Service Commission acknowledged that customers should be able to opt out of the nuclear subsidies by purchasing renewable energy. In issuing the Clean Energy Standard Order on August 1, 2016, former PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman stated that the PSC would explore an option to give utility customers the choice to buy certified “100% New York Green” energy rather than pay the nuclear subsidies. But two years on, that option still does not exist.
“136 organizations, businesses, and elected officials from across New York have signed the letter, asking that all New Yorkers be given the right to use our buying power to bring about a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy system,” said Andra Leimanis of Alliance for a Green Economy. “We are currently denied that right. Our energy choices are channeled so that our money subsidizes nuclear plants at the expense of renewables, whether we like it or not. We shouldn’t be forced to prop up failing nuclear plants against our will.”
In the letter, renewable energy advocates, faith-based organizations, legislators, and grassroots environmental organizations urged Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commission to remedy the problem by taking the following steps:
- Immediately direct the Public Service Commission to create a renewable energy only opt-in program, giving all New York utility customers the choice to purchase a 100% clean renewable energy product and opt out of the Zero Emission Credits (ZECs) program. This option should apply not just to individual consumers but also to municipalities that have adopted Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs). The customers of CCAs that purchase 100% clean renewable energy should not be obligated to pay for nuclear bailouts on top of their CCA payments.
- Eliminate Customer Disincentives. For the opt-in program to be a meaningful choice for customers, it is necessary that when customers purchase the 100% New York renewable energy option, their PSC-mandated obligations to buy ZECs do not shift onto other customers. Instead, these obligations must be permanently retired, thereby reducing the total number of ZECs and the total cost for all utility customers. Similarly, it is important that when customers voluntarily buy additional renewable energy above and beyond the Clean Energy Standard targets, utilities, in turn, are not allowed to use those customer purchases to reduce their obligations to meet their renewable energy obligations under CES.
- Direct New York Power Authority (NYPA) to create a 100% renewable municipal program. NYPA can play a key role in providing communities and municipalities with the choice to purchase a 100% renewable energy product and/or enter into contracts with municipalities to be a CCA provider. New York should expand NYPA’s authority to all municipalities, and give them and the municipalities NYPA already serves the option to purchase a 100% renewable energy product and/or enter into a CCA program.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are ready to choose 100% carbon-free and nuclear-free energy because they want to accelerate New York’s transition to a clean renewable energy system. It is time to finally move forward with creating a 100% clean renewable New York energy product for utility customers eagerly awaiting it.
NOTE TO EDITORS AND PRODUCERS: Sources from AGREE NY and other groups which signed the letter are available for comment and interviews on request. For more information, or to talk to sources, please contact Stephen Kent, firstname.lastname@example.org, 914-589-5988.