Testimony of the Green Education and Legal Fund to the
Assembly Standing Committees of Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; Consumer Affairs and Protection; Energy; and Environmental Conservation
Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building, Albany
March 6, 2017
My name is Mark Dunlea and I am chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund, a statewide nonprofit whose mission is to promote ecology and grassroots democracy. We are one of the more than 130 organizations who have signed on to attached letter opposing the proposed nuclear bailout. GELF is also a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by Clearwater challenging the process by which the bailout was approved.
We urge you as part of the State Budget to direct the Public Service Commission and other relevant state entities to halt the plan to mandate $7.6 billion in ratepayer subsidies to keep old, unsafe, uncompetitive nuclear power plants open in upstate New York.
We support legislation (A5985 Thiele / S 4800 Avella) to enact a moratorium on the bailout.
Spending billions of dollars to bail out old, unprofitable 20th century energy sources makes no sense. It’s the equivalent of spending big bucks to keep the horse-and-buggy industry alive while Henry Ford is moving cars off the assembly lines. Instead, New Yorkers should invest in clean, renewable, 21st century energy technology and reap the economic, health and environmental benefits that brings, while at the same time keeping the cost as low as possible for ratepayers. Energy efficiency measures and newer, cleaner, renewable sources of power are more cost-effective, better for human and environmental health and create more jobs than this huge and unjust ratepayer tax.
Nuclear power is an expensive way to produce electricity, has the potential for serious accidents involving the release of harmful radiation, and the waste from nuclear power plants would have to safely stored for tens of thousands of years. Governor Cuomo recognized these dangers in negotiating for the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant by 2021.
The Nine Mile Point, FitzPatrick and Ginna nuclear plants are inefficient and dangerous power sources and should be decommissioned. Most of these plants were built during the ear of Vietnam War. New York’s overburdened ratepayers simply should not have to fork over billions of dollars in higher utility bills to subsidize such aging, economically uncompetitive nuclear plants.
More than 800,000 consumers in New York State are already in arrears on their utility bills. Many more New Yorkers currently struggle to pay electric rates that are among the highest in the nation. Increasing the monthly charges by another $2 to $5 per month for these vulnerable New Yorkers will only make a bad situation worse.
Higher utility bills will also place a strain on businesses, schools, charitable organizations and local governments. New York communities are already straining against the limits of the local property tax cap. We cannot afford to see our municipal energy costs go up even further to bail out an industry that brings no economic development to most of our communities.
The extraordinary ratepayer-funded subsidy to keep the aging nuclear plants open will retain only approximately 2,000 nuclear plant jobs in only one region of the state for only 12 years.
New York’s clean energy sector provides more jobs than the nuclear industry by orders of magnitude. Statewide, estimates range from 85,000 to 180,000 jobs in the clean energy sector such as solar, wind, energy efficiency retrofits, heat pumps, etc. While nuclear subsidies won’t create a single new job for unemployed New Yorkers, investing in clean energy creates many thousands.
Besides, we don’t need to keep Ginna, FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point running in order to preserve many of their workers’ jobs. When they shut down, about half their workforces should be retained to help decommission them. We need a safe, measured decommissioning process for New York’s aging nuclear plants. The process takes many years to complete, and requires staff who know all the details of how a specific plant has been run and altered over the years. It’s critical to keep them on site to keep costs and radiation risks down after the reactors stop running. Decommissioning jobs are paid for out of decommissioning funds already set aside for the purpose, so they don’t impose any additional costs on taxpayers or ratepayers.
A recent analysis by noted experts Dr. Mark Jacobson and Dr. Felix Cebulla found that across a variety of nuclear and renewable energy scenarios for New York State, in every scenario investments in energy efficiency and renewables will cost consumers less, reduce more greenhouse gas emissions, and generate more jobs (i.e., 82,000) than bailing out the nuclear industry. Wind and energy efficiency can already be purchased for less than the price that Exelon requested to keep its plants in business, according to Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy reports.
The deal environmental and labor groups reached with Pacific Gas & Electric to close California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and replace it with zero-carbon renewables and efficiency is a case in point. It includes $400 million for retaining some plant workers for decommissioning, retraining others for jobs elsewhere in the utility, and compensating San Luis Obispo County for declining property tax revenues from the plant.
Using that approach in New York would leave affected workers and communities better off than making electricity customers pay upstate nuclear plant owners twice what they pay their workforces over 12 years. Instead of wasting billions on corporate welfare, New York could both replace property tax revenues for affected communities and provide wage support and training for displaced workers.
For communities that have hosted the nuclear plants and workers who have staffed them, we urge a just phase-out plan that retains enough workers to ensure safe decommissioning, and provides training and placement for unneeded workers in the rapidly-growing renewable energy economy. The transition must address legitimate community concerns regarding loss of tax revenues and donations to first responders and important community services. These concerns can and should be addressed through creative leadership — without imposing a $7.6 billion ratepayer funded subsidy that will only delay the closures by a dozen years.
Unfortunately, the Public Service Commission, which approved the $7.6 billion ratepayer-funded bailout without any legislative involvement or approval, failed to evaluate alternative proposals for how most effectively to create jobs, help local taxpayers and promote clean energy. Further, in a matter of weeks, the price tag for this bailout soared from $59 million to $7.6 billion – a staggering sum, and far more than the state is investing in renewable energy under the Clean Energy Standard.
A thorough, public and transparent evaluation of alternatives should be done.
In terms of reliability, the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which is the state-sanctioned agency responsible for ensuring a reliable electricity supply, has determined that if FitzPatrick and Ginna both shut down, there would be no impact on the ability of utility companies to secure enough electricity to keep everyone’s lights on. The study looked at the closure of FitzPatrick and Ginna within the context of other planned power plant closures, including three coal plants in Upstate New York and two gas plants in New York City. The NYISO found that even if all of these plants close as planned, no new resources would need to be built.
Nor are nuclear power plants carbon free. The cycle of the nuclear power process that begins with the mining of uranium and continues with milling, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel all have a carbon footprint. And then one has to store the radioactive wastes for tens of thousands of years. No permanent storage is available for highly dangerous, radioactive spent fuel. Uranium mining is dirty, dangerous and radioactive. The radioactive waste tailing pilings from mining uranium generates dirty, radioactive dust and heavy metal poisoning in kids. Both the radioactive and dangerous spent fuel is piling up at reactors around the world and these toxic uranium tailing piles are also increasing in number.
Nuclear power is neither clean nor zero-carbon. In fact, New York’s aging nuclear plants are particularly dirty. They pose serious and growing threats to public health and safety as they reach the end of their lifespans. The longer they operate, and especially when they exceed their 40-year designed lifespans, the more radiation they leak into water and air, the higher the risk that critical components will fail, and the more spent fuel they build up on site in overcrowded fuel pools, which are now some of the highest concentrations of harmful radioactivity on the planet.
Nuclear subsidies have no place in a clean energy plan to fight climate change. That was the conclusion the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached as it rejected the idea of giving nuclear plants credit for greenhouse gas emissions reduction under its Clean Power Plan. As EPA pointed out, maintaining existing nuclear plants does nothing to reduce carbon emissions, it just maintains the status quo. But adding new renewables and efficiency measures cuts GHG emissions deeply.
What threatens the climate goals laid out in the Clean Energy Standard is not retiring failing nuclear plants; it’s the possibility that New York will not pursue energy efficiency and renewable energy aggressively enough. They’re growing rapidly, but locking in billions in corporate welfare for Exelon for the next 12 years would hamstring their further development. Taking resources away from them to subsidize a dying nuclear industry undercuts the fight against climate change.
Exelon would receive the entire $7.6 billion subsidy – the largest transfer of wealth from government to a single corporate entity in New York’s history. Exelon is a Fortune 100 company with annual revenues over $34 billion. It spent $430,000 on lobbying in New York in the last two years, including lobbying for the nuclear subsidies in the Clean Energy Standard.
There is still time for New York to turn away from this $7.6 billion nuclear bailout plan because the charges don’t kick in until April 1.
Appendix – List of Organizations Opposed to Bailout
All Our Energy
Alliance for a Green Economy
American Hydrogen Association Northeast
Beacon Climate Action
Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
Binghamton University Japanese Association
Bronx Climate Justice North
Brooklyn For Peace
Buddhist Peaceful Enlightenment. Inc
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
Capital District Against Fracking
Carbon Tax Center
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
Central Park West CSA
Church Women United in New York State
Citizen Action of New York
Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Climate Justice @ Union Theological Seminary
Coalition Against Nukes
Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline
Columbia Divest for Climate Justice
Commack Community Association
Complete It Cuomo
Council of Peoples Organization (COPO)
Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy
Daughters of Wisdom US Province
Divest Barnard from Fossil Fuels
Eco-Poetry.org (New York’s Top Poets on climate issues.)
Environmental Justice Task Force of the WNY Peace Center, Inc.
Fifth Avenue Committee, Inc.
Finger Lakes CleanWaters Initiative, Inc.
Food & Water Watch
Fort Greene Peace
Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement
Full Potential Consulting
FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality)
Grassroots Environmental Education
Greater New York Labor Religion Coalitipn
Greater NYC for Change
Green Education and Legal Fund
Green Party of Nassau County
Green Party of Nassau County
Green Sanctuary Committee, Community Church of New York, UU
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.
Hudson Valley Concerned Citizens
Hudson Valley Progressive Alliance
Hunger Action Network of NYS
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition
Jewish Climate Action Network – NYC
Judson Memorial Church
Keyframe Animation Club
Little Lakes Sustainability Network
Long Island Progressive Coalition
Manahattan Peace Project
Manhattan Central Medical Society
Manhattan Project for a Nuclear-Free World
New Abolitionist Movement
New York Climate Action Group
New York Environmental Law & Justice Project
New York Interfaith Power & Light
New York State Sustainable Business Council
North American Climate,Conservation and Environment
North Country 350 Alliance
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
NYC Friends of Clearwater
NYC Safe Energy Campaign
Pax Christi Metro New York
Peace Action Manhattan
Peace Action New York State
Peace Action of Staten Island
Peacemakers of Schoharie County
People of Albany United for Safe Energy – PAUSE
People’s Climate Movement Capital Disrict
People’s Climate Movement NYC
Physicians for Social Responsibility/New York
Protect Orange County. org
PSUMC (Park Slope United Methodist Church) Social Action Committee
Psychologists for Social Responsibility – Environmental Action Group
Public Citizen, Inc.
Renewable Energy Long Island
ROAR (Religious Organizations Along the River)
Rochester People’s Climate Coaltion
Safe Energy Rights Group, Inc. (SEnRG)
Sierra Club Long Island Group
Sierra Club Niagara Group
South Asian Fund For Education,Scholarship &Training (SAFEST)
Southern Cayuga Anti-Fracking Alliance
Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion
Student Government Association
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development
SUNY Cortland Environmental Justice Committee
Syracuse Peace Council
The Green Resource Hub of the Finger Lakes
Three Parks Independent Democrats
Tristates unite for safe energy
United for Action
Upper Green Side
Weather Medic Inc
World Can’t Wait
You Are My Sista
Youth Arts New York