New York is engaging in an ambitious effort called REV (Renewing the Energy Vision) to update the state’s electricity grid to support renewable energy and microgrids. Unfortunately, this vision fails to see the importance of the state’s largest source of low-carbon electricity, nuclear power.
Anyone who is concerned about climate change and the need to limit carbon emissions must recognize the important role played by nuclear power. It provides one-third of all of New York’s electric power and nearly two-thirds of the carbon-free power.
But the existing fleet of six nuclear power plants faces severe threats of shutdown because of competition from cheap natural gas and a regulatory environment unfairly stacked toward renewables.
Eliminating nuclear power prematurely while the plants are still licensed for use will increase the use of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. Entergy Corp’s Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts has recently been scheduled for shutdown, and the replacement energy source will primarily be natural gas, not renewables. New York environmentalists who have been adamant in their opposition to nuclear power should pay close attention to the results following the closure of the Pilgrim nuclear plant.
Aside from substantial quantities of zero-emissions power, nuclear power plants are often the economic backbone of their rural communities. Shuttering these plants kills thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues.
The FitzPatrick nuclear plant, near Oswego, is also owned by Entergy Corp. and faces similar profitability challenges as the Pilgrim plant.
Shutdown of the FitzPatrick plant is actively being considered. The FitzPatrick plant generates over $500 million annually in economic activity and has a payroll of $74 million for 615 workers, and is one of the largest employers in the area. The average pay at FitzPatrick is $119,000 in salary and benefits, far above the norm for Oswego County, where the median income is $48,000. It is the county’s second-largest taxpayer, a major charitable donor and a large consumer of technical contracting services. Plant closure will result in most of the jobs and economic activity being lost.
Recent nuclear plant closures of the Vermont Yankee plant and Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin resulted in direct job losses of 500 to 600 employees at each plant, plus an equal number of indirect job losses from service industries that served the plant. In each of these cases, the plants were in rural areas where replacement jobs are hard to come by. The same dynamics exist in New York, where school funding is directly tied to property taxes and shuttering such large facilities directly reduces funding for local school districts by millions of dollars.
Nuclear power plant operators maintain that New York’s wholesale power market does not adequately value nuclear power for providing large amounts of emissions free electricity. The plant operators are right.
It will be very challenging to meet the carbon reduction goals from the EPA’s Clean Power Plan without the use of nuclear power, and these benefits should be reflected in the state’s wholesale power market.
New York’s REV initiative is focused on microgrids and renewables, and while praiseworthy, state energy policy cannot afford to undermine clean and affordable nuclear power if we expect to reduce the use of polluting fossil fuels.