State rules regarding power plants expired four years ago – and the issue has been hopelessly deadlocked since. On Monday, rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats experienced first-hand why it has been so tough to find some middle ground.
The setting was a “conference committee” meant to hash out differences over a proposal to streamline energy regulations. But after easily agreeing to some basic goals, they hit a roadblock on whether to allow nuclear and coal plants to qualify for fast-track approval.
Senate Republicans insisted that the new law be “technology neutral.” That is, any power source could qualify as long as it meets existing pollution standards.
Democrats who control the Assembly say they don’t want to include nuclear power because the federal approval process for such plants effectively supersedes the state rules. They also want to strictly limit what type of coal plant – so-called “clean coal technology” – qualifies.
Back and forth they went until they hit this point:
“What other topics do you want to discuss since we’re not getting anywhere on coal or (energy) diversity?” asked Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, Montgomery County.
“Maybe it’s best we call it a day,” replied his counterpart, Sen. James Wright, R-Watertown, Jefferson County.
At issue is Article 10, a power-plant siting law that expired in 2003. Because of the gridlock, just a small amount of power supply has been added to the grid while demand has climbed. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has made Article 10 a key component of his energy strategy, which he says will help the upstate economy.
The governor also has called for allocating $295 million for “clean,” renewable power projects – especially wind – and for reducing electricity consumption 15 percent by 2015.
Spitzer has put himself between environmental groups and energy groups on coal, by saying that one type of production process (gasification) meets the criteria for “clean coal” and, therefore, fast-track status. Power producers and Senate Republicans want a broader definition. Some environmental groups don’t think any type of coal production should qualify.
“Shouldn’t you incentivize the technologies that have the most benefits to the state?” said Jason Babbie of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “By opening the gates to any and all technologies, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Senate and Assembly panelists did agree that a state siting board should consider the “cumulative impacts” of a new plant on a host community before granting approval. They also agreed on a “tier approach” that would mean different sized plants would go through different approval processes.
The Spitzer administration is pushing hard to reach an agreement by the end of the legislative session, June 21. The governor and house leaders are supposed to meet Wednesday – the latest in a series of public negotiating meetings – to see if they can make progress on any of the high-profile, outstanding issues. There was no word when the energy conference committee would convene again.
5 June 2007
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