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Funding Problems Put New York’s Nuclear Power Plants In Jeopardy

New York State’s Public Service Commission is looking for ways to get financial support for up to three nuclear power plants on Lake Ontario. The goal is to keep them from closing in the face of competition from cheap, gas-fired plants.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration have become entangled in the issue because of his clean energy goals. His current plans intend for New York to receive half of its energy from renewable power sources and reduce power plant greenhouse gas emission by 40% by 2030.

Nuclear plants, which produce carbon-free energy, are an essential part of the state’s effort to reach these goals.

The main problem is funding. The R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Wayne County, and the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego, only a couple of hours east of Rochester, are facing serious financial trouble and are in danger of closing as early as mid-2017.

The plan presented by the Public Service Commission is to require energy utilities, like Rochester Gas and Electric and Con Edison, to buy “zero-emission credits” from power producers that don’t emit greenhouse gases.

This should ensure that the nuclear plants can keep afloat, remain open, and keep producing the state’s biggest source of zero-emission energy.

PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman said recently that “We want to make certain that we don’t loose nuclear plants unnecessarily because we have a market situation that doesn’t support them in the wholesale markets, but we want to do so in a way that is as cost-effective as we can.”

Cuomo’s clean energy initiative is a formidable challenge to the state, especially considering the infrastructure already in place that makes not being eco-friendly much more economical. The cheap energy from fuel burning plants are just one example; nearly 60% of homes in the U.S. are heated with gas-fired forced air furnaces.

A recent workshop that hosted big utility companies gave voice to some of the their concerns, but the companies were also open to the new program.

Ivan Kinvall, the director of electricity supply for Con Edison, said, “If there’s no obligation for the facilities to be around, they’re going to make a businesses decision and shut down.”