Environment Column

Nuclear plants must be the basis of New York’s clean energy plan until future of all renewable energy is achieved

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is on the right track with his environmental policies, says columnist Lydia Niles.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest environmental predicament is toeing the line between tumbling natural gas prices and declining nuclear power plants. But despite backlash for his plans to subsidize three nuclear power plants in upstate New York, Cuomo is in the right.

A recent study by the New York Public Interest Research Group shows that Cuomo’s $7.6 billion plan to subsidize the plants will cost public institutions millions of dollars in utility costs, per The New York Daily News. Cuomo has recently been under fire for granting the energy company Exelon subsidies to maintain the three plants — FitzPatrick, Nine Mile Point and Ginna — which are aging, and at risk of closing without government support.

Critics of the plan argue electricity customers all over the state will be taxed while only those living near the plants will reap the benefits. While it is true that subsidizing and keeping the plants open will support the communities they’re located in, it is absurd to say that no one but locals will benefit from those subsidies.

By keeping the nuclear plants open, New York will not be forced to turn to natural gas to replace nuclear power. More than half of New York homes are heated by natural gas, which harms the environment, and those numbers will only rise if the plants do not receive subsidies, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

Cuomo has several reasons for subsidizing Exelon’s plants. First, New York’s Clean Energy Standard program is on a tight schedule. The plan requires that New York runs on 50 percent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2030, according to the state website. And while nuclear energy is not renewable, it does not emit greenhouse gases, which are the culprit of global warming.

By keeping the plants open for another 12 years, Cuomo is giving the planet a cushion until the full transition to renewable energy is made. His other reasons for subsidizing the plants include keeping energy consumption options open and supporting local communities that rely heavily on the plants as employers and tax revenue.

“It’s a timing problem,” said Peter Wilcoxen, a professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University, of Cuomo’s subsidies. “The big elephant in the room is that if we are actually going to do anything significant about climate we’re going to eventually have to do something that is either adopting a carbon tax or a tradable permit system.”

But because both the state and federal government are nowhere near close to accepting the very real dangers of global warming, a carbon tax is not possible for the time being.

The decline of nuclear power is not strictly a New York issue. Nuclear energy is dwindling across the U.S., especially in states such as Ohio and Illinois, according to The New York Times. The average plant is 35 years old, per NPR, and Nine Mile Point in Scriba — which is about five miles from Oswego — is the second oldest nuclear power plant in the country.

Nuclear power is a clean and reliable source of energy, but it’s no longer what it once was. Increasing costs of maintenance are making it more and more difficult for nuclear power plants to compete with cheap natural gas. If there was a readily available alternative to nuclear power, the plants should have been shut down. But unfortunately, there is not, and global warming is too serious an issue to wait another decade for full renewable energy.

Although most nuclear plants are in a sorry state, they still account for 20 percent of electricity in the U.S., per NPR. So until cheaper and more planet-friendly energy is at our fingertips, we must rely on nuclear power plants, and Cuomo should not be chastised for recognizing this necessity.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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