Frustrated by the pending shutdown of two nuclear power plants on Lake Ontario, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to order state regulators to mandate that, by 2030, half of all power consumed by New Yorkers be generated from renewable sources that emit much less carbon dioxide, people briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has already declared a goal of having 50 percent of the state’s power come from solar, wind, hydroelectric or other renewable sources in 15 years, but the state has had no means of enforcing that directive. The governor intends to have the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, codify the requirement, these people said. Some of them, including a Cuomo administration official, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to discuss the proposed mandate.
The mandate would be another step toward the governor’s goal of a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions from plants supplying the state’s electricity. In the intervening years, the energy policy would give utilities an incentive to use power generated by nuclear plants, which are considered clean sources, though not renewable.
By pushing utilities to obtain more of the power they distribute from less-polluting sources, state officials hope to delay the planned shutdown of two nuclear power plants on the shore of Lake Ontario. Aides to the governor have been trying for several weeks to dissuade Entergy from closing one of them, the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego County.
Entergy officials say they will close the plant in late 2016 or early 2017 because it has been losing about $60 million a year. Nuclear plants emit less air pollution than power plants fueled by natural gas or coal, so the loss of them would set back the state’s hopes of meeting its clean-energy goals.
Even if the mandate comes too late to keep the reactor at the FitzPatrick plant operating, state officials hope it could prolong the life of the Robert E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant near Rochester. The Ginna plant’s owners said in 2014 that they intended to shut it down, but state officials struck a deal to subsidize its operation to keep it running until 2017.
Cuomo administration officials want the upstate nuclear power plants to continue operating until 2030, when they hope that there will be enough sources of renewable energy to supply half of the state’s needs, according to people who have been briefed on the matter. But Mr. Cuomo has taken an opposite stance on Entergy’s Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County, which has two reactors.
The governor has repeatedly called for Indian Point to be shut down, saying it is too dangerous to have a nuclear plant so close to a metropolis. It is perched on the edge of the Hudson River in Buchanan, about 30 miles north of Manhattan.
“It’s certainly a quandary,” one of the people briefed on the matter, Gavin J. Donohue, the president of the Independent Power Producers of New York, said of Mr. Cuomo’s positions on the upstate and downstate nuclear plants. “It’s clear that the governor is recognizing the value of upstate nuclear energy. That’s a big change for the State of New York, and it’s welcome news.”
Mr. Donohue said he thought owners of power plants in the state would welcome Mr. Cuomo’s mandate if it did not interfere too much with the market for power. “What we’re trying to get to is a market-based approach to solving climate-change issues,” he said. “We need to not have the government pick winners and losers.”
Mr. Cuomo, who has positioned himself as a leader in the battle against climate change, announced an energy plan in June that drew praise from former Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Gore, a Democrat who has made drawing attention to global warming his signature cause, called the governor’s proposed mandate “a terrific and bold action,” noting that it comes a week before the United Nations will hold a conference on climate change in Paris.
“Governor Cuomo’s commitment to expanding renewable energy and transforming the energy landscape in New York State reflects his longstanding leadership in the effort to solve the climate crisis,” Mr. Gore said in a statement. “And the timing couldn’t be better. As we approach the global climate negotiations in Paris in just over a week, actions by state governments like New York State provide essential momentum toward a strong and effective agreement.”
Rory M. Christian, the director of clean energy for the Environmental Defense Fund in New York, said that Mr. Cuomo’s proposed mandate was similar to one that California’s Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed into law last month.
“Yeah, it’s an achievable goal,” Mr. Christian said. “We got a man to the moon; we can get to 50 percent renewable energy.”
What effect the mandate will have on consumers’ electric bills is “a concern,” Mr. Christian said. “Rates are always going to be a concern,” he said. But, he added, “the key thing is more renewables will keep those costs from going up or stabilize them.”
Renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power operate intermittently and not as reliably as plants fueled by gas, coal or nuclear. And encouraging the development of those sources may involve subsidies from ratepayers, the Cuomo administration official said.
On the other hand, the state official said, “This will actually avoid the sticker shock that ratepayers experience every time there is a fuel shortage, a power plant goes offline or there is a spike in energy costs.”
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