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Should electric customers pay for NYS nuclear plants?

The battle is heating up over a statewide electric rate increase to subsidize upstate nuclear power plants that pits Governor Andrew Cuomo against a coalition of "good-government groups."

Members and leaders of the statewide campaign to "Stop the Cuomo Tax" and end the bailout of nuclear power in New York have made their intentions clear: they are calling on the governor to release alleged "secretive agreements with nuclear companies."

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said the governor is proposing to keep three upstate nuclear power plants near Rochester and Oswego open for the next dozen years, using $7.6 billion of ratepayer money to make it happen.

The issue is part of the Public Service Commission’s broader Clean Energy Standard. The final installment on putting that deal together occurs in a vote before the Public Service Commission scheduled for Thursday.

"There is certainly an irony in the fact that the governor is hell-bent on closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant outside of the city of New York and yet providing billions and billions of dollars in subsidies for aging upstate ones," said Horner. "The plants that he's bailing out are ones that were ready for the scrap heap. They'd already outlasted their anticipated lifespan as power plants."

He continued that this could be the single biggest transfer of wealth from ratepayers to companies in New York state history.

"The decision on this was conducted largely outside of public view. The public had, at best, only dim awareness that this was happening," Horner said. "The governor's ramming through a basically secretive decision that's going to cost New Yorkers billions and billions of dollars and, for the 800,000 poorest New Yorkers, they're gonna take a big, big hit."

Horner said most of those 800,000 are in arrears and 20,000 have already had their service cut off.

"The governor's proposed bailout of these nuke power plants will just jack up the price even harder for these struggling New Yorkers and it's not even that it's a great investment," Horner said. "This is just to keep old Vietnam War-era nuke power plants running."

Horner said there has been no public debate if this is a good idea.

"We believe, of course, that you have to invest in making sure that the electricity grid is modern, that the power generated is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and we understand all that and we understand that investments have to be made, but we believe in 21st century technology, not 20th century technology," he said.

The governor's office has a different point of view. Rich Azzopardi is a spokesman for the Cuomo Administration.

"This absurd and dishonest campaign once again omits the key fact that without the Clean Energy Standard, these plants will close — putting hundreds of New Yorkers out of work, causing utility bills for 8.3 million ratepayers to skyrocket and increasing the reliance on dirty fuel and fracked gas," Azzopardi said. "Without them, it would be impossible for New York to meet its nation leading greenhouse emission and renewable energy standards."

Azzopardi said New York just this spring put into place a landmark affordability policy that provides direct relief to 2 million low-income ratepayers and "it’s shameful that these purported good-government groups are sharing cause with big oil, fracked gas interests and are adopting conservative scare tactics to advance their misguided agenda."