Environment

New York's Governor Would Rather Prop Up the Nuclear Industry Than Invest in Renewable Energy

Why doesn't Cuomo invest clean energy funds in actual clean energy, such as solar and wind?

Radioactive waste ; Chemist in protective suit the disposal of radio active waste,photography
Photo Credit: overcrew/Shutterstock

New York is poised to dump $7.6 billion into dirty, dangerous and aging nuclear power plants as part of a policy that Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling the Clean Energy Standard. Although this policy would provide support for renewable energy by requiring utilities to meet New York’s goal of producing 50 percent of electricity from renewable energy by 2030, the real money in the plan is sadly reserved for bailing out nuclear plants. The governor wants to keep several aging nuclear plants open to preserve jobs in two upstate communities.

That may be good politics—and certainly no one wants those people to lose their jobs—but there are substantial drawbacks, including putting millions of New Yorkers at risk. Why doesn't the governor invest clean energy funds in actual clean energy, such as solar and wind?

To put the 12-year, $7.6 billion plan into perspective, consider that Cuomo’s NY-Sun program, which pays for the state’s solar incentives, is slated to invest only $1 billion into the solar industry over 10 years. That billion dollars has supported the creation of a lot of jobs. Halfway through NY-Sun’s life, New York state has benefitted from the creation of 8,000 solar jobs. Conversely, the $7.6 billion to keep nuclear plants open will save about 2,000 jobs. Based on this math, the money would be better spent invested in solar energy. If the governor wants to give existing nuclear workers a helping hand, he could also provide renewable energy companies incentives to hire them.

Left as it is, the nuclear subsidy policy would turn on its head New York’s promise to lead the nation in renewable energy and instead leave New York and Governor Cuomo leading the nation in nuclear subsidies for old and dangerous reactors. The so-called Clean Energy Standard would spend twice the amount of money on dirty energy as it would on renewables. That is preposterous.

The plants that the state wants to prop up are failures both financially and technologically. For instance, the FitzPatrick reactor in Oswego was recently shut down for 12 days due to an electrical issue that ended up causing the plant to spill oil into Lake Ontario—the drinking water source for over 9 million people. FitzPatrick is losing so much money the company that owns it, Entergy, is ready to shut it down. But the governor has apparently been working behind the scenes to get another company to buy the plant in exchange for these generous nuclear subsidies.

The potential buyer, Exelon, also owns two reactors next door, both of which share FitzPatrick’s Fukushima-style design that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has admitted is flawed and could lead to radioactive releases in the case of an accident. Aside from accidents, perhaps nuclear’s biggest failure of all is that it creates thousands of tons of radioactive waste. There is no long-term plan to deal with this waste, so for generations after the electrons generated by the plants have been used, the toxic radioactive waste will remain. Is this the legacy Governor Cuomo wants to leave for New York?

Imagine what New York could do if Cuomo would go all-in on the thriving renewable energy sector instead of dumping more money into the nuclear industry. We could put more funding into wind and solar—including getting offshore wind up and running—and make tens of thousands of homes more energy efficient, creating jobs and saving people money. We could put real dollars into the geothermal industry and get ourselves off fracked gas and other fossil fuels used to heat our homes. We’d have money to help with worker retraining and transitioning communities into the green economy. In short, we could accelerate our transition to 100 percent renewable energy, getting there faster, cheaper and safer.

Thousands of New Yorkers and over 100 organizations have criticized these nuclear subsidies, instead calling for the governor to let dangerous and unprofitable nuclear plants close and to invest our money in renewable energy and energy efficiency instead. But on July 8, the governor’s Public Service Commission went the opposite direction, releasing a new, expensive version of the proposed subsidies. The commission is giving the public a paltry 10 days to comment while the governor stated to the press Wednesday he is working to finalize a deal to keep FitzPatrick open to save 600 jobs and use nuclear as a so-called “clean energy bridge” at the cost of billions of dollars.  

Governor Cuomo should protect the safety of millions of New Yorkers. He should say no to subsidizing the nuclear industry and yes to New York’s clean and green energy economy. Call him today at (518) 474-8390.

Jessica Azulay lives in Syracuse, NY. She is the program director for Alliance for a Green Economy.

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