ALBANY — Three upstate nuclear power plants are in line for nearly $1 billion in subsidies as part of a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
But environmental groups want to derail the state plan, arguing that the reactors are a threat to public safety and the state instead should encourage the development of solar and wind energy.
"There are cheaper and better ways to get to zero-emissions than having rate-payers give multi-million-dollar subsidies to aging, dangerous and expensive nuclear plants," said Richard Brodsky, a former assemblyman from Westchester County who is working with the Alliance for a Green Economy.
The subsidies are part of a recommendation being advanced by the Department of Public Service as it seeks to hit the target set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of having renewable energy account for half of the state's power mix by 2030.
Under its plan, utilities would buy power at inflated rates over two years from the operators of the two reactors at Nine Mile Point on the shore of Lake Ontario; the James FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego County; and the R.E. Ginna Nuclear Plant in Wayne County.
Public Service staff say the benefits of subsidizing energy derived from carbonless sources "far exceed the costs" of power from natural gas and coal.
The plan would net a savings to the state of about $4 billion from reduced carbon emissions, reduced costs of buying coal and natural gas and property tax benefits, the agency said in a report issued Friday.
Supporting the plan is the Independent System Operator, which manages the state's power grid. It calls nuclear power a "critical bridge to New York's clean energy goals."
Existing nuclear stations produce nearly a third of the state's energy — or 44,620 gigawatt hours.
But Brodsky, who once led a legislative committee that oversaw utilities, said the subsidy is unnecessary and would be a burden on electric bills.
"The big news here is that New York now wants to subsidize nuclear power," he said.
In a legal brief filed with the Public Service Commission, Brodsky said the No. 1 reactor at Nine Mile Point turned 47 years old this year and is the country's oldest reactor.
The Ginna reactor is the fourth-oldest, he said.
Subsidies would not extend to the controversial Indian Point reactor in Westchester County, just north of New York City. Cuomo has advocated for its closure.
The governor has also said he wants the FitzPatrick reactor, slated to close next January, to remain open.
Both reactors are owned by Entergy.
Last December, Cuomo directed the Public Service Commission, the utility watchdog that oversees the Department of Public Service, to devise a "clean energy standard" to help achieve a steep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
About 40 percent of New York's energy now comes from natural gas. Energy from coal- and oil-fired plants combine for another 5 percent.
About 18.4 percent of the state's energy use is derived from hydroelectric power. Other renewable forms of energy — such as wind and solar — provide 5.5 percent.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com