New York state currently has five nuclear power plants, and they all face mounting financial losses and pressure from activists. But closing them is not an environmentally good idea.
The FitzPatrick plant in Oswego is scheduled to be shut down in 2017, and Exelon Corp. has announced that the nearby Nine Mile Unit No. 1 and the Ginna Plant in Rochester will also be shut down unless the state offers needed financial reforms to allow the plants to stay in business.
Nuclear power currently provides 30 percent of New York’s electric power and 60 percent of the state’s carbon-free power. If these plants are shut down, then most of the power will be replaced by new natural gas plants that will contribute an estimated 15.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
The Cuomo administration and the New York Public Service Commission have offered a new Clean Energy Standard that will provide zero-emissions credits and financial incentives for upstate nuclear plants. Plant operators have made it clear that without financial reforms, the money-losing nuclear plants will be shut down. It is imperative that the PSC follow through with approving the Clean Energy Standard and allow these plants to continue operating. We need more emissions-free power, not less.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to save the four upstate nuclear plants, while also working to shut down the Indian Point facility 30 miles from New York City. Safety must always be paramount, and every plant must be judged on its individual merits, but it is important to remember that the upstate plants have excellent safety records and no immediate causes for concern.
By most accounts, the upstate plants are in good operational shape and require only routine maintenance and refueling. These plants represent enormous investments in infrastructure and provide hundreds of high-paying jobs and critical tax bases for the communities they reside in.
It makes little sense in a state that has waged a campaign against the increased use and production of natural gas to replace our largest sources of emissions-free power with increased reliance on natural gas. Wind and solar expansion will certainly fill in some of the lost nuclear power, but nowhere close to all of it.
Experts from all sides agree that most of the lost nuclear power would be replaced by natural gas. We should be focused on using renewables to replace our dirtiest sources of power, like the remaining coal plants, not our zero-carbon workhorses. Losing the state’s nuclear power plants would be a massive step backwards in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We have a fleet of existing nuclear plants that have excellent safety records and are in good operational shape. Power markets are highly regulated, and under the current rules the plant owners are losing millions every year due to the emergence of low-priced natural gas. Pricing reforms offered by the Public Service Commission would recognize the value of the emissions-free power provided by these nuclear plants, enabling them to continue to operate and provide the critical employment and tax revenue their communities need.
The Public Service Commission should approve the Clean Energy Standard.