ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s four nuclear plants, which generate more than a quarter of the state’s electricity, are going through turbulent times amid slumping power prices. And depending on how things play out, one or more could shut down entirely, affecting jobs, power reliability, electricity bills and carbon emissions.
Though opposed by many environmentalists, New York’s nuclear plants are seen by state regulators as a steady source of electricity that doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is crafting a plan that would direct millions of dollars a year extra to keep ailing upstate nuclear plants operating. Officials say the cost to individual customers would be small and would be outweighed by environmental and economic benefits.
As regulators work on a broad plan to help the nuclear industry, individual plants are being buffeted by financial and, in one case, political pressures. Here’s a look at the issues at the plants and possible consequences:
Operators of the FitzPatrick plant on Lake Ontario north of Syracuse announced plans to shut down on Jan. 27, 2017. Entergy Corp. blames low natural gas prices, high operational costs and a “flawed” market the company says doesn’t adequately compensate nuclear generators. The plant, which began generating electricity in 1975, employs more than 600 people and produces 838 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 800,000 homes.
The Cuomo administration is crafting an expedited financial support plan that could potentially help FitzPatrick.
Entergy spokeswoman Tammy Holden wrote in an email this week that they “are moving forward with the safe and orderly shutdown of FitzPatrick.”
Entergy’s Indian Point on the Hudson River north of New York City has been in the crosshairs of environmentalists and politicians such as Cuomo. A top concern is how to evacuate the more than 17 million people living within 50 miles of the two reactors if there’s an emergency. Federal regulators are allowing the reactors, which began producing electricity in the mid-’70s, to operate as the company seeks license renewals.
Entergy’s two New York plants illustrate an unusual cross-current in the state’s nuclear policy: the company wants to keep Indian Point running and plans to close FitzPatrick; Cuomo wants FitzPatrick open and has called for the closure of Indian Point.
The Ginna plant along Lake Ontario near Rochester is operating under a surcharge that costs the average residential customer a little more than $2 a month extra. Operator Exelon had considered retiring the plant, which began producing electricity in 1970, before the surcharge was imposed. Exelon also operates the two reactors at the Nine Mile Point plant. The surcharge could expire in March 2017.
RELIABILITY AND COSTS
The state grid’s overseer, the New York Independent System Operator, reported earlier this year that the loss of FitzPatrick, combined with other scheduled retirements of nonnuclear plants, could cause energy reliability problems in the system by 2019, though they are reassessing that conclusion.
Less nuclear power would require New York to rely more heavily on electricity generated from greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. Some analysts say even the loss of FitzPatrick could drive electricity prices higher because of nuclear’s role in consistently helping the state’s power grid meet minimum demand.
“You’re still going to see a short-run price increase and you’re going to clearly see greater carbon emissions as a consequence of the likely shift to natural gas to meet demand,” said Brattle Group principal Mark Berkman, who has analyzed New York plants for industry-related groups.
CLEAN ENERGY GOALS
A big spike in emissions would foil Cuomo’s pollution-reduction plan to have half of New York’s electricity consumption come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2030. The administration sees nuclear plants as a “bridge” to its goals and is working on a plan to make ailing upstate plants eligible for extra funding to help them stay open.
The Department of Public Service estimates that the “zero emission credit” program would cost from $59 million to $658 million through 2023. Precise costs to customers are unclear, though the department says it could cost the average residential customer under a dollar month.
Exelon said the Cuomo plan could help both plants. Exelon said in email that without state help, “Ginna would most likely recommend retirement.”
The proposal would exclude Indian Point because its license has not been fully renewed. Entergy argues that leaving Indian Point out of the aid plan “would leave the state in a substantial shortfall position” in trying to meet its emission goal for 2030.
The proposal, along with an expedited plan that could help Fitzpatrick, is expected to be considered by the Public Service Commission this summer.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.