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Groups ask New York to exempt 100% renewable users from paying nuclear subsidy

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Groups ask New York to exempt 100% renewable users from paying nuclear subsidy

More than 130 anti-nuclear advocacy groups, businesses and elected officials are urging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to exempt those who buy 100% renewable energy from having to help fund the state's zero-emissions credits that subsidize four nuclear power plants at risk of early closures.

The calls to amend Cuomo's subsidy of emissions-free nuclear generation were made just days after U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Exelon Corp.'s James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant just north of Syracuse in central New York.

Perry, a vocal supporter of nuclear energy, visited the facility Aug. 1, the second anniversary of Cuomo's Clean Energy Standard, or CES, requiring 50% of the state's electricity to be generated by renewable resources by 2030.

To help meet that goal, the state implemented a zero-emissions credit program to shore up the economics of four Exelon-operated, upstate nuclear power plants that are struggling to stay afloat in markets that do not value their environmental attributes and are awash in cheap natural gas supplies. The CES program also provides funds to existing and new renewable energy resources.

SNL Image

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visits the FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in New York on Aug. 1.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

"New Yorkers should not be forced to buy nuclear power or support aging reactors via charges on their utility bills if they are willing to buy 100% renewable energy," the Alliance for Green Economy, also known as AGREE New York, said in an Aug. 6 letter sent to Cuomo and Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes.

Various religious organizations, consumer groups and activist groups opposed to nuclear power and natural gas generation also signed the letter. It urged the Cuomo administration to make good on an alleged two-year-old promise by former PSC Chairman Audrey Zibelman for the commission to explore giving utility customers the choice to buy certified "100% New York Green" energy rather than pay the nuclear subsidies.

In a press release, AGREE New York said emissions-free nuclear energy is not "clean or renewable," and "ratepayers have lined Exelon's pockets with an estimated $650 million in extra costs on their electric bills" since the CES went into effect April 1, 2017. The zero-emissions credit, or ZEC, payments could total as much as $7.6 billion over 12 years if electricity prices continue to remain low.

AGREE New York said the petitioners worry that the nuclear subsidies cancel out "the impetus customers who opt into renewables purchasing programs" and suppresses the demand for and growth of renewables.

In addition, AGREE New York derided how renewable purchases credited to a utility effectively allow the utility to reduce its own renewable purchasing obligation by the same amount. "The net effect on renewables demand is a wash."

The nuclear subsidy opponents called on the Cuomo administration to immediately direct the PSC to create a renewable energy-only opt-in program that also opts out eligible participants from paying for the ZEC program and would be applicable to individual consumers and to municipalities that have adopted community choice aggregation.

The letter said the PSC should mandate that the ZEC payment obligations opted-out by 100% renewable buyers cannot be shifted on to other customers.

"Instead, these obligations must be permanently retired, thereby reducing the total number of ZECs and the total cost for all utility customers," AGREE New York said. "Similarly, it is important that when customers voluntarily buy additional renewable energy above and beyond the Clean Energy Standard targets, utilities, in turn, are not allowed to use those customer purchases to reduce their obligations to meet their renewable energy obligations under CES."

The petitioners also asked the Cuomo administration to direct the New York Power Authority to create a 100% renewable municipal program.