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New York's "Clean" Energy Plan Props Up Dirty, Dangerous Nuclear Power

"We're reaching for renewables. Don't chain us to dirty nuclear."

New York Clean Energy Nuclear Power

"Nuclear energy is not clean and it has no place in a Clean Energy Standard," said Jessica Azulay, program director with the Alliance for a Green Economy. (Photo: Alliance for a Green Economy)

New York state's Clean Energy Standard (CES), approved Monday, is being hailed as a "monumental step forward" toward a renewable energy future.

But it's also generating controversy, as it props up the state's faltering nuclear industry to the tune of about $500 million a year in subsidies—and potentially lays out a blueprint for other states to do the same. 

According to the Journal News:

The state Public Service Commission voted 4-0 Monday to adopt the Clean Energy Standard, a three-tiered plan mandating the state's long-held goal of getting 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and implementing a 40 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.

As Utility Dive notes:

A key component of the CES is a subsidy plan to support the state's struggling nuclear power plants, which have been losing out in the marketplace largely due to cheap natural gas. The standard would direct about $965 million to the plants over the first two years, using a formula based on expected power costs and the social price on carbon federal government agencies use in rulemaking. 

"This will allow financially-struggling upstate nuclear power plants to remain in operation during New York's transition to 50 percent renewables by 2030," read a statement from the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed for the CES. "A growing number of climate scientists have warned that if these nuclear plants were to abruptly close, carbon emissions in New York will increase by more than 31 million metric tons during the next two years, resulting in public health and other societal costs of at least $1.4 billion."

Bloomberg noted: "The decision stands in stark contrast to the strategy of other states looking to use cleaner energy. A bill that Massachusetts passed just hours earlier threatens to put New England's last two reactors out of business by replacing them with renewable resources."

Meanwhile, in California, a historic agreement was reached last month between Pacific Gas and Electric and environmental and labor organizations to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors with greenhouse-gas-free renewable energy, efficiency, and energy storage resources.

Indeed, the subsidies were decried by environmentalists, some of whom attended the Public Service Commission's hearing holding signs that read: "We're reaching for renewables. Don't chain us to dirty nuclear."

"Nuclear energy is not clean and it has no place in a Clean Energy Standard," said Jessica Azulay, program director with the Alliance for a Green Economy. "We praise the Governor and the Commissioner for supporting renewable energy, but the nuclear subsidies are a mistake and a misuse of public money. These plants that will be kept open with this bailout are some of the oldest in the nation. They are dangerous and they should be shut down as soon as possible."

A press statement from the Alliance for a Green Economy noted that while the CES was under consideration, more than 100 organizations and dozens of elected officials raised concerns about the nuclear subsidies, while close to 15,000 people submitted comments opposed to such a bail-out. Just 3,600 comments were submitted in favor of the subsidies.

"Instead of giving nuclear some reward  it would be more appropriate to sanction those acting badly," Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), told Reuters. Earlier this year, UCS released a report outlining 10 safety and security "near misses" at U.S. reactors in 2015.

Entergy Corp., which operates one of the New York plants that will receive subsidies, was responsible for three of those 10 incidents. 

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