“The city of Yonkers will pay an extra $3 million to keep its lights on over the next 12 years, according to a study of utility costs linked to a controversial Cuomo administration plan to bail out three upstate nuclear power plants.
In fact, all of New York’s big cities will kick in significantly more money to underwrite the bailout, according to The Alliance for a Green Economy, a vocal critic of the governor’s bailout plan. The nonprofit analyzed the impact the bailout will have on electricity bills for six large New York cities over the next 12 years.
New York City is likely to pay out an extra $208 million to fund a portion of the estimated $7.6 billion in subsidies to be split between three struggling upstate nuclear power plants, two in Oswego County and another east of Rochester.
The analysis looked at the six cities for which utility bills were publicly available. Yonkers ranked behind Buffalo, whose electric bills are estimated to jump $3.35 million over the 12 years of the plan. Next was Rochester at $2.66 million, followed by Syracuse at $1.46 million and Albany at $1.03 million.
Blindsided on costs
Jessica Azulay, the program director for the alliance, accused state officials of blindsiding local governments with costs that will eat into budgets.
“These are sizable increases to city budgets, and yet municipalities weren’t warned ahead of time or provided an adequate opportunity to comment on these looming rate hikes,” Azulay said. “They will be forced to subsidize dirty and dangerous nuclear plants rather than have the opportunity to spend these funds on their own clean energy programs.”
The Cuomo administration has defended the plan as a way to provide a clean, carbon-free energy source while the state moves toward a greater reliance on wind and solar power for its energy needs in the decades to come. The state Public Service Commission approved the plan, known as the Clean Energy Standard, in August.
Commission spokesman Jon Sorensen questioned the alliance’s methodology.
“Our analysis shows a cost of less than $2 a month for a typical residential customer while the advocates vastly overstate costs in future years,” Sorensen said. “Their estimates are based on doubtful and speculative forecasts which assume energy prices will not vary in the next 12 years. They also fail to account for the costs from premature closure of the upstate nuclear power plants. A fair analysis shows that the benefits of the Clean Energy Standard outweigh the costs.”
Critics have dubbed the plan “The Cuomo Tax” and claim it represents one of the largest bailouts of a private corporation in the state’s history. Currently, two of the upstate plants — R.E. Ginna near Rochester and Nine Mile Point in Oswego County — are owned by Illinois-based Exelon.
Exelon has an agreement to purchase the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant, Nine Mile Point’s next-door neighbor, from Entergy. The sale is expected to be finalized in the spring.
All three plants are struggling financially amid market pressures linked to the low cost of natural gas. They have been the focus of a campaign led by upstate business and labor interests eager to hold onto the well-paying jobs the plants provide. Local school districts say they would lose millions of dollars in annual revenue if the nuclear plants’ property-tax payments were removed from their budgets.
And state officials say shutting down the nuclear plants now would make it harder for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent come 2030.
Yonkers city officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the study’s findings.
The increased utility rates — roughly $2 a month for residential ratepayers and significantly more for energy-dependent businesses — are scheduled to go into effect in April.
Little of the electricity generated by the upstate plants will reach the Lower Hudson Valley and New York City.
The alliance is part of a grassroots campaign calling itself “Stop The Cuomo Tax” that numbers 36,000 New Yorkers and 130 groups, according to organizers.
“Cities and counties are struggling to fund basic services for New Yorkers,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “To be asked to dig deeper into the pockets of their constituents so a huge, profitable energy company can keep three outdated nuclear plants open is simply unfair and wrong-headed, especially when many areas of the state will receive little, if any, of the energy produced by the plants.””
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