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Plan to Subsidize Ginna Power Plant Draws Support, Condemnation From Area Residents

Toxic ChemicalOver the past few decades, the use of electrical energy has been rising steadily in the United States, with the amount of usage in 2013 clocking in at almost 13 times the amount utilized in 1950. For this reason, it is unsurprising that the Ginna nuclear power plant in Ontario has become a huge presence in the lives of its local residents. Since the plant opened in 1970, its impact has been seen in the number of workers who have settled in nearby towns like Webster, in the area schools that have instituted regular drills to prepare for potential leaks, and the droning alarm the plant plans to use in the event of a nuclear emergency. As a result, a proposal to close the facility has drawn a complicated mix of support and condemnation from hundreds of local residents, who have attended Ginna’s public hearings in droves to voice their comments and concerns.

On Wednesday, May 6, the Public Service Commission held the first of two public hearings on a proposal to subsidize the power plant in the Webster Recreation Center. A second hearing was also held in downtown Rochester on Thursday. Held in two sessions, the Webster hearing drew almost 400 people in total. Many in attendance wore “I support Ginna” T-shirts and spoke in favor of the plant, as well as the plan to save it.

Ginna’s operator, Exelon Corp., decided to close the power plant after announcing that the facility was losing millions of dollars a month as other generators offered more favorable prices. But while the Chicago-based company says the plan could help cut its losses, RGandE, which has historically distributed most of Ginna’s output to its customers, has stated that it needs the plant to remain in operation. The power company says its connection to the statewide power grid isn’t strong enough to replace the plant’s supply if the facility is shuttered. One study for the company indicated that this could lead to electricity shortages during peak summertime demand if Ginna closes.

In response, Exelon and RGandE invoked a regulatory mechanism that allowed them to privately negotiate an arrangement to raise enough additional revenue to make the plant profitable again. Their solution would require residential customers to pay an extra $163 over the next three and a half years to keep Ginna running. Monthly charges would start at $6.11 and decrease over time, generating $175 million in subsidies.

At the Webster hearing, residents seemed largely supportive of this plan, with many commenters invoking the reliability issue.

“My wife and I live on a fixed income. But $6 a month is not going to break us. If that’s what RGandE needs to keep our service reliable, so be it,” said Don Haag, a Webster resident in favor of the subsidies.
However, dissenters were quick to point out flaws in the plan, especially when it came to the impact on the area’s commercial ventures. For example, Pactiv Canandaigua, which manufactures food packaging, is expected to pay an additional $1.8 million over the plan’s duration. Last year, the company spent $4.5 million on electrical energy even without the charges, and critics argue that these additional fees would make it difficult for Pactiv and other area businesses to remain competitive.

Meanwhile, several advocacy and consumer groups have also opposed the plan, claiming the extra fees haven’t been fully justified and were not established under the proper protocols. These organizations have noted that Exelon hasn’t set a firm date for closing the plant and claim the study on the need for Ginna’s power wasn’t thorough enough to be convincing. As a result, some advocates are claiming that the company is planning to procure millions in extra revenue for the next few years and will simply keep the plant running afterwards. For its part, RGandE has stated that it will build new connections to the power grid that will be able to fully replace Ginna’s supply, which it hopes to have completed by 2017.

Meanwhile, other groups and individuals debated the benefits and consequences of nuclear power, with some calling plants like Ginna safe, reliable and non-polluting — and some criticizing them as inevitably undesirable.

“It’s likely that Ginna is going to close, whether it’s this year or in a couple of years,” said Jessica Azulay of the Alliance for a Green Economy.

She went on to argue that the issue should focus on further converting New York’s power supply to renewable energy, instead of supporting Ginna. PSC officials later commented that Azulay’s group and other critical organizations intend to independently search for an alternative to the proposal, which could trigger another round of hearing. However, ultimately, no plan can go into effect without PSC approval.

Area residents can continue to submit written comments by emailing secretary@dps.ny.gov, or mailing responses to Secretary, Public Service Commission, 3 Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY, 12223-1350. Residents can also leave recorded messages at (800) 335-2120. All comments should include the PSC case number, 14-E-0270.