Assemblywoman Jenne: Nuclear Power Integral Part of Meeting State's Clean Energy Standards Goal

March 7, 2017
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne questions Blair Horner, executive director for NYPIRG, during an Assembly hearing on the zero-emissions credit program.
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne maintains a call for a moratorium on a zero-emissions credit (ZEC) program that is aimed at keeping nuclear facilities in the state operating for the next decade could be detrimental to the economy of Central and Northern New York and cause a spike in energy costs for ratepayers.

She says doing away with the zero-emissions credit could lead to the loss of 3,350 megawatts of energy generated at nuclear facilities in Oswego and Wayne counties as well as the loss of hundreds and hundreds of high-paying jobs that fuel the region's economy.

Assemblywoman Jenne said clean energy sources simply are not available to make up for that loss of energy in the short term.

She said it was unfortunate the state's Public Service Commission did not send representatives to the hearing Monday to provide members of the Assembly with the rationale that led to the establishment of the zero-emissions credit program.

"I am alarmed by the projected amount of the ZECs and think we could make strategic investments that could reduce the costs in the out years and position Central and Northern New York better to generate and sell energy, including renewables, produced in the North Country to the rest of the state," Assemblywoman Jenne noted.

The New York State Public Service Commission in August approved the Clean Energy Standard (CES), which established the goal of obtaining 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

A component of the CES is the 12-year zero-emissions credit program. As a result of such program, in the first two years, 2017- 2019, all New York energy consumers will pay a rate increase of $965 million to subsidize four upstate nuclear power generating units owned by the Exelon Corporation (Fitzpatrick, Ginna, and Nine Mile units 1 and 2), with rates increasing as high as 10 percent for each two-year interval through the end of program.

The hearing held on Monday was aimed at providing an opportunity for the Assembly Committees on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions; Consumer Affairs and Protection; Energy; and Environmental Conservation to explore how the commission arrived at its decision.

Committee officials said the hearing's goal was to examine alternatives to the ZEC program, such as investing in renewable energy sources and conservation, to listen to concerns from affected industries and advocates and to discuss ways for the commission to provide for more transparency and public involvement in a decision-making process that led to the subsidies for the owner of the nuclear facilities in Central New York.

Assemblywoman Jenne said she shared her colleagues' concern about the process, but she said she was equally concerned with the impact of steps the Legislature could take that could lead to the closure of the upstate nuclear plants, even though they are permitted to generate power for more than a decade.

The ZEC subsidy is expected to cost the average residential customer in New York just under $2 on their monthly energy bills. Assemblywoman Jenne said the cost of disruptions to the energy market created by the loss of the 31 percent of the energy in the state currently generated by the nuke plants would likely have a far worse impact on ratepayers.

She suggested the conversations at the committee hearing reminded her of the debate about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act currently underway in Washington, D.C.

The Assemblywoman suggested it simply didn't make sense to make a dramatic change in the state's energy policies without having the resources in place – both in production and transmission – to make up for the 24/7 power being generated at the nuclear plants.

"Do you pause or repeal without a replacement?" she asked.

She said the bridge provided by the nuclear facilities could provide the time to bring additional renewable energy producers on line and to make necessary improvements to the state's transmission and storage capabilities. She noted congestion currently limits the ability to move power generated upstate to downstate customers.

Assemblywoman Jenne also noted the elimination of the FitzPatrick plant alone would mean the loss of 600 jobs in Oswego and a major hit on local governments and schools.

She suggested instead it seemed likely the state would be looking to energy producers from out of state and Canada to provide power, and the Assemblywoman suggested much of the energy generated in state to fill the gap would likely come from natural gas or other fossil fuel facilities. The rise of hydrofracking has flooded the market with cheap fuel, which is undermining other types of energy production.

"I think we have to take a more practical approach. We are talking about a substantial amount of power. There will be an impact on energy prices and the burden on ratepayers will still be there but it will be shifted to benefit jobs in New Jersey and Canada. There will be a lot of environmental downsides as well if we don't have nuclear power," she suggested.

She indicated continued demand for hydrofracked energy and the transportation of other fossil fuels through ecologically fragile locations, including the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, could result if the nuclear facilities are closed.

When her colleagues at the committee hearing suggested downstate ratepayers were being asked to pay for power that only serves customers in upstate New York, Assemblywoman Jenne reminded her colleagues from downstate that there was a reason the plants were located in Central New York.

"The fact is they were sited there because we are rural. People didn't want them in more populated areas. They put them in places that were desperate for good-paying jobs," she said, noting the nuclear power plants were built and initially owned by New York State.

Testimony at the hearing was provided by advocates for environmental groups; local government and school district officials from Oswego and Wayne counties, the town of Scriba and the city of Oswego; a former 14-term state assembly member from downstate opposed to the tax credits; labor leaders and the director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).