“ALBANY — Anti-nuclear activists are blasting the state for agreeing to turn over about $1.5 billion it held in nuclear plant decommissioning funds to two energy companies.
The New York Power Authority agreed to transfer the $683.8 million decommission fund for the Indian Point nuclear plant to Entergy, which recently reached agreement with the state to shut down the Westchester County facility by 2021.
It is also turning over the $746.2 million decommission trust fund for the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in upstate Oswego County to Exelon Generation, which is purchasing the facility from Entergy as part of a bailout plan by Gov. Cuomo for three aging upstate nuclear facilities.
By transferring the decommission funds, the state is giving up major leverage when it comes to closing and cleaning up the sites in the future, according to the head of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear power organization founded nearly four decades ago.
“There’s certainly no advantage for the state to do it,” said Tim Judson, the executive director of the group.
The trust funds are required for every nuclear power plant in the U.S. to ensure there is sufficient money when a plant is due to be taken out of commission. They are funded from fees on consumer electric bills.
Traditionally, the trust funds have been held by the licensed operators of the individual nuclear plants.
But when NYPA in 2000 transferred the operating licenses for the Indian Point and FitzPatrick plants to Entergy, it held on to the decommission trust funds.
After Entergy agreed to sell FitzPatrick in Oswego County to Chicago-based Exelon, and then struck a deal with the state to close Indian Point by 2021, NYPA received permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transfer the decommission funds to the two companies.
With the sale of FitzPatrick to Exelon and the agreed-upon closure of Indian Point, Judson and other advocates argued that NYPA could have held on to the funds and doled them out as needed. That would have required the companies to justify the expenses and allowed the state to keep the money from being diverted for other purposes through federal exemptions.
“It would give the state a role in deciding what was a valid decommissioning expense,” Judson said.
NYPA argues the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sets standards for decommissioning of nuclear power plants. The authority says the funds are earmarked solely for decommissioning purposes and can only be released after the NRC approves the expenses.
“With every expense requested by Entergy for decommissioning the Indian Point plant, the state will closely monitor to ensure that there (is) no misuse of funds and all state environmental regulations are followed,” NYPA said in a statement. “The state will continue its strict oversight of Indian Point and… anyone (who suggests) otherwise needs to look at the countless actions the state has taken including the landmark agreement to close the plant.”
But environmental groups have expressed frustration that they have been unable to examine the agreements, particularly pertaining to the upstate bailout of the three nuclear power plants, two of which are currently owned by Exelon and the third, FitzPatrick, that is being sold by Entergy to Exelon.
Under the deal, Entergy agreed to sell the FitzPatrick plant to Exelon for $110 million. Exelon will then be the sole beneficiary of a multiyear state-approved subsidy that could total $7.6 billion, which critics say is the largest state-approved subsidy for a single private entity.
A coalition of environmental groups says in early November, it cited the state’s Freedom of Information Law to formally requested the details of the agreements from NYPA, the Cuomo administration and the Public Service Commission that oversees the industry in New York. But they say after more than three months, they are yet to receive the information.
“All we’ve received for our efforts is radio silence. We have zero answers, and people’s bills are about to start going up for the next 12 years. This is outrageous,” said Jessica Azulay, the program director of Alliance for a Green Economy.
The multibillion-dollar subsidy that Exelon will receive, known as a zero-emission credit, will come from utilities across the state that are required to buy power from the nuclear plants at inflated prices.
A recent report by a coalition of groups opposing the plan says the change will add $2.3 billion in costs that will be shared by residential customers across the state. For Con Edison consumers, that would mean an extra $705 million over the next 12 years, the report said.
Meanwhile, a new report from the Alliance for a Green Economy to be released Monday claims the plan could result in a $208 million hit to New York City’s budget from higher electric bills over the next 13 years.
Cuomo has argued the zero-emission nuclear plants are needed as a temporary measure until the state achieves his goal of generating 50% of New York’s electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030.”