Albany – The state’s Public Service Commission on Monday passed a new set of standards that by 2030 aims to ensure that half of New York’s energy comes from renewable sources such as solar and wind, as well as hydro plants.
Also being used: geothermal power and off-shore wind energy in the state’s coastal areas.
“The commission’s primary interest is to see that renewables get built in New York,” PSC Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman said prior to the 3-0 vote. “I think this is a pragmatic approach.”
The move, which fulfills a goal earlier set out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was lauded by environmental groups that say it puts the state in the forefront nationally of the clean energy movement.
Environmental Advocates, for example, offered particularly strong praise for the mandate that power generators move toward a more renewable, green standard.
“New York state has set visionary climate and clean energy goals – what was missing until today was the requirement to turn those goals for the electricity sector into action,” said Peter Iwanowicz, EA’s executive director.
“The Clean Energy Standard moves us down the path toward clean, renewable energy by taking the promise of getting half of our electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2030, and requiring power companies to get there.”
“Mandating that clean energy goals be achieved by 2030 cements New York’s role as a leader in addressing climate change,” Stuart Gruskin, chief conservation and external affairs officer for the Nature Conservancy in New York, said.
The plan isn’t without controversy, however, since it includes subsidies to ensure the state’s existing upstate nuclear plants remain open.
The thinking was that, without nuclear plants, natural gas would likely fill the gap.
But unlike gas, nuclear plants emit no carbon, therefore they aren’t viewed as contributing to global warming.
Due to the current low price of gas, nuclear plant operators say they need a subsidy to compete on price or they will go out of business.
With that in mind, the state agreed to subsidize the upstate plants. And it left the door open for possible subsidies to the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester.
Critics, such as Westchester Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, have complained that the subsidies mean New Yorkers across the state will be paying more for their power – as much as $7.6 billion over the next 12 years.
Anti-nuclear activists such as Manna Jo Greene, who works with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said that money would be better spent to develop more renewables. “That’s where the subsidies should be going,” she said.
But supporters, such as Rob DiFrancesco, of New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, a nuclear industry group, said the state’s nuclear plants avoid what could otherwise be another 15.5 million tons of carbon going into the atmosphere each year.
“New Yorkers win because they keep abundant, clean sources of power that generate billions of dollars in annual economic activity in the state, while preserving emission-free nuclear power plants that help the state meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent,” he said.
State officials also noted that the subsidies shouldn’t be more than $2 per month for most residential consumers.
The subsidies will come through carbon reduction credits that are built into the plan.
One of the main beneficiaries will be the Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which owns the R.E. Ginna and Nine Mile Point nuclear plants in Wayne County and north of Syracuse.
The firm, according to reports, also is looking at purchasing the James A. FitzPatrick plant near Oswego from the Entergy Co.
Timing was a consideration in passing the plan, Zibelman said. FitzPatrick’s operators need to plan now to refuel or restock the plant with new fuel rods. They had initially said they would shut it down next winter when refueling time came.
But shutdowns in nuclear plants tend to be permanent due to the cost of getting them started again. “When it shuts down, it’s gone,” Zibelman said.
The plan does more than subsidize nuclear plants. It also calls for a ”Made in New York” element that allows consumers who don’t mind paying a bit more to specify that they want to purchase energy from renewable sources developed in New York.
Zibelman compared that to the desire by some consumers for locally grown as well as organic foods. They envision a “New York certified” renewable energy designation for such providers.
At the same time, the plan also allows credits for new hydroelectric sources, as long as they don’t require new impoundments, or dams. Those sources could come from Canada, which has a wealth of hydroelectric resources, especially in northern Quebec.
The nuclear and renewable component of Monday’s vote drew onlookers and demonstrators.
Pro- and anti-nuclear supporters packed what is usually a largely empty Public Service Commission hearing room, prompting the agency to open up two additional conference rooms where people could watch the meeting on a webcast.
While the rules are now in place, Zibelman stressed that the plan includes a triennial review when they can reassess how the plan is progressing and make adjustments as needed.