New York approves Clean Energy Standard

02 August 2016

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) has formally approved a Clean Energy Standard (CES) that explicitly recognises the zero-carbon contribution of nuclear power plants and will help ensure their continued operation as it strives to reach ambitious clean energy goals.

Supporters of the CES celebrate its approval (Image: Environmental Progress)

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the PSC's approval of the standard, which will require 50% of New York's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, as "the most comprehensive and ambitious clean energy mandate in the state's history".

The CES explicitly recognises the carbon-free generation provided by New York's upstate nuclear power plants - two units at Nine Mile Point and single units at RE Ginna and James A Fitzpatrick - as critical in enabling it to meet its climate change targets. However, the plants' continued operation had been at risk because of the economic challenges from the short-term nature of the deregulated market they operate in and competition from low-cost gas and federally subsidized wind power.

Under the standard, the state's investor-owned utilities and other energy suppliers will be required to purchase Zero-Emission Credits to pay for "the intrinsic value of carbon-free emissions from nuclear power plants". This will allow the so-called upstate nuclear plants to remain in operation during the state's transition period. The publicly owned New York Power Authority and Long Island Power Authority are also expected to adopt the same requirements.

The CES will enforce the development of renewable energy capacity by requiring energy suppliers to obtain Renewal Energy Credits, which will be paid to developers to help finance such development. Other directives included in the CES decision include the development of a "New York-certified clean electric product", giving consumers the ability to purchase "100% clean power" should they wish to; support for the expansion of energy efficiency measures; a "blueprint" for offshore wind energy; and commitments to pursue developments and investments in storage, transmission and other technologies. Triennial reviews will be performed to ensure economic and clean energy goals are being achieved.

"New York has taken bold action to become a national leader in the clean energy economy and is taking concrete, cost-effective steps today to safeguard this state's environment for decades to come," Cuomo said. "This Clean Energy Standard shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combatting climate change."

Exelon investments

Exelon, operator of Ginna and Nine Mile Point, confirmed that it intends to reinvest about $200 million in the plants early next year now that the CES has been approved. It also said that negotiations on a potential purchase of Fitzpatrick from Entergy will now be able to continue, providing an opportunity to keep the boiling water reactor in operation. Entergy has previously announced plans to close Fitzpatrick, which is licensed to operate until 2034, in January 2017.

Without the CES, Ginna and Nine Mile Point would have been at risk of closure, the company said.

"Today is a historic day for New York and the energy industry, and we applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Administration for their leadership," said Exelon CEO Chris Crane. "Approval of the Clean Energy Standard makes New York a true leader in terms of support for zero-emissions energy, including both renewables and nuclear power."

The Washington, DC-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) welcomed the New York CES as "visionary", establishing an important precedent for carbon reduction efforts at the state policy level. "Gov Cuomo and the Public Service Commission correctly acknowledge nuclear power plants as indispensable sources of emissions-free power, meriting explicit valuation by the state as a clean energy source. Other states should strongly consider emulating New York’s new energy standard," NEI CEO Marv Fertel said.

"Reactors elsewhere in the country are under financial stress today, because their attributes are not fully valued while at the same time natural gas prices are at historic lows and renewable energy sources are subsidized via tax credits and/or mandated additions of wind and solar capacity. Policymakers and leaders in other states should closely review New York’s Clean Energy Standard and work expeditiously to enact comparable policies that preserve these vital clean energy assets," he added.

More to do

Climate scientist James Hansen, of Columbia University, was among those who endorsed the PSC's decision, describing it as "an important victory" to protect New York's nuclear power plants. "Doing the right thing is sometimes controversial, and that was the case here," he said, adding that Cuomo and the PSC's commission was "an act of courage, putting the common good ahead of public expediency". "California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio and other states around the nation should take notice of what real climate action looks like," he said.

Mike Shellenberger, head of the Environmental Progress environmental research and policy organisation, said the New York initiative should be "an inspiration" to environmentalists and workers fighting to save at-risk nuclear plants in Illinois, California and elsewhere.

At the same time, he said, the measure "still discrimates against nuclear" by not including it in longer term clean-energy mandates. "If New York included nuclear in an expanded goal, it could come much closer to 100% clean power in 2030 and beyond," he said, noting that renewables would still receive more in subsidies than nuclear under the CES.

"While we thank Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commissioners for a positive step forward, environmentalists concerned about the climate should recognise this as a temporary victory," said Shellenberger.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News