Home Opinion Suffolk Closeup Why ‘one of the largest tax increases in recent history’ is buried...

Why ‘one of the largest tax increases in recent history’ is buried in your electric bill

Exelon bought the 42-year-old FitzPatrick nuclear power plant last year from Entergy, which had announced it would close the plant because it had become unprofitable to operate. Photo: Entergy

Long Island Power Authority ratepayers — including those in Suffolk County — will be and already are paying a disproportionate share of the $7.6 billion bailout of four upstate nuclear power plants pushed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The bailout runs for 12 years. It kicked in last year with an added charge in the electric bills of all New York State residents, businesses and other entities including schools and governments.

A lawsuit is underway in New York State Supreme Court to end the bailout. It follows unsuccessful efforts in the State Legislature to stop it, of which Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. was a leader.

“The lawsuit is our hope now,” he said last week.

The disproportionate share LIPA ratepayers are being charged is based on a complicated formula developed by Exelon, which owns in whole or part the four plants, and approved by the state. Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, calculates that LIPA ratepayers are being hit with an overcharge of many millions of dollars a year in contrast to what should be their share.

Unit one of the Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant circa 1969. Photo: U.S. Dept. of Energy

The bailout is based on a claim by Governor Andrew Cuomo supported by the State Public Service Commission that nuclear power plants don’t generate greenhouse or carbon gases and thus should receive “zero emissions credit” — an assertion the lawsuit strongly challenges.

The lawsuit points to the full “nuclear cycle” or “nuclear chain” — including mining, milling, fuel enrichment—in which large amounts of greenhouse or carbon gasses are emitted and also emissions in the operation of the plants themselves, among them daily discharges into the air of methane and radioactive carbon.

The claim that “nuclear power is carbon-free is preposterous,” Judson siad. And to provide a bail-out on this basis “is a massive waste of ratepayer funds which should be going to renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Susan Shapiro, an attorney for the plaintiffs, comments: “The $7.6 billion hand-out is based on the ludicrous claim that nuclear power is somehow good for the environment, while ignoring the continuous radiation pollution and the continuous thermal emissions — as well as the release of various greenhouse gasses. Nuclear energy is the dirtiest form of energy and has no business being subdidized in a clean energy program. Moreover, with nuclear power getting a lion’s share of funding, the state is preventing renewables from rapidly developing.”

The Ginna nuclear power plant was completed in 1973. Photo: U.S. Dept. of Energy

The true reason for the bailout is that the upstate nuclear power plants can’t make it in today’s energy market — they’re unable to compete. Indeed, just before the bailout there was a move to close one of the plants because it wasn’t viable economically.

In addition to the enormous lobbying power of Exelon, the biggest owner of nuclear power plants in the U.S., the other factor in promoting their continued operation are some politicians and business people in communities in which they are located. Indeed, Thiele said, the legislation he and other State Assembly members had been sponsoring to stop the deal received “no support” in the State Senate where senators from upstate constitute an important bloc.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Clearwater, NIRS, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, Promoting Health and Sustainable Energy and Goshen Green Farms. The plants, all on Lake Ontario, are Ginna near Rochester and Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 and FitzPatrick in Scriba.

Meanwhile, the bailout in New York State has become a model for other states which have been developing their own nuclear power plant subsidy programs financed by ratepayers. These include Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Connecticut. Thus the deal “by spreading nationally will cut back the advance of safe, clean, renewable energy throughout the U.S.,” Shapiro said.

Although promoting the continued operation of the nuclear plants upstate, Cuomo has been working for the closure of the Indian Point nuclear plants 30 miles north of New York City. Thiele describes the governor’s contradictory nuclear stance as “schizophrenic.”

“Long Islanders are no strangers to bad energy policies,” said Thiele, citing the Shoreham nuclear plant debacle. “In excess of $6 billion was spent on the construction of Shoreham without ever considering whether or not there was a viable evacuation plan for Long Island’s three million people. There wasn’t. Shoreham never operated.”

Now there’s “another energy disaster” happening, the $7.6 billion bailout “to keep open four aging and expensive upstate nuclear power plants. In a free market, without the subsidies, these plants would close because there are cheaper and safer source of energy available,” Thiele said. “Instead of propping up the failed policies of the past, we should instead be investing in a sustainable energy future. Make no mistake about it, this $7.6 billion subsidy is nothing more than a tax increase. It is one of the largest tax increases in recent history and it will be buried in your electric bill.”

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Karl Grossman
Karl is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Karl lives in Sag Harbor. Email Karl