Rally for FitzPatrick

The clean energy standard giving upstate nuclear plants hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to keep afloat faces a new federal challenge from energy companies. 

SCRIBA — State Sen. Patty Ritchie proposed a law Tuesday that would authorize and direct the New York Power Authority to acquire the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant through purchase or eminent domain.

The bill, currently under review by the Senate Rules Committee, is the latest effort to rescue the 40-year-old Scriba plant, which Entergy — the plant’s current owner — slated for closure after announcing it faced at least $60 million in losses due to increased operational costs and stiff competition from low-priced natural gas.

“We’re at a very critical point and I’m looking to do anything I possibly can to keep the conversation going,” said Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “My number-one priority is saving the 600 jobs and we’re having every conversation to do that.”

Whether NYPA could feasibly buy or operate FitzPatrick — or whether NYPA is even interested — remains to be seen.

Reached by phone and email Thursday, Paul DeMichele of NYPA media relations said “It is our policy not to comment on proposed legislation.”

Ritchie said time was of the essence in the introduction of the bill.

“It’s my understanding that once a plant begins the decommission process, it’s virtually impossible to bring back online,” Ritchie said. “This is an opportunity to work together with the governor and find a way to keep the plant up and running.”

However, a day before Ritchie introduced the bill, NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones tweeted that it was “very unlikely” NYPA could take over or operate the struggling facility.

“We no longer have the expertise in-house to own, operate and maintain nuclear plants,” Quiniones tweeted Monday in response to a discussion among energy researchers.

“It is already operating at a significant loss now,” Quiniones added. “What makes anyone think that we can operate it profitably?”

Ritchie and Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, have led legislative efforts to prevent FitzPatrick’s shutdown, which jeopardizes more than 600 Oswego County jobs.

Earlier this year the pair pushed bills providing a $60 million tax credit to FitzPatrick as well as making nuclear plants eligible for “zero-carbon emission” payments.

Entergy spokesperson Tammy Holden said the company understood the concerns of Ritchie and others, and has “always been open to any viable alternatives to the shutdown of FitzPatrick.”

At this point, however, the company remains “focused on safely operating FitzPatrick through the end of its current operation cycle, then safely and orderly decommissioning the plant,” Holden said.

Holden added the company “cannot comment on any specific discussion we have held with any entities.”

Barclay said it would be “a pretty heavy lift” to get the legislation passed as it was nearing the end of the state’s legislative session.

“We’re running out of time,” he said, adding he wasn't positive NYPA would be interested in the plant.

The state Public Service Commission is currently reviewing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed clean energy standard, which would provide nuclear producers with the same kind of tax and zero-carbon credits eligible to alternative energy sources like wind and solar.

Cuomo wants half the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 while reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent. PSC officials — and hundreds of area nuclear workers — say these goals are unreachable without significant market shifts in favor of nuclear and the continued operation of upstate plants.

Ritchie said the clean energy standard was a “very aggressive” move by Cuomo, and that nuclear is an important aspect to hitting the 2030 goal.

“It should be important to the state as a whole to get to the level of emissions the governor had put out there, and nuclear energy is part of that,” said Ritchie.

Gary Toth, vice president of the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency, is another community stakeholder who supports the clean energy standard, and said continued operation of the upstate nuclear fleet is “vital to the economic and environmental stability of our region.”

“We are hopeful that policymakers can pass the clean energy standard in a swift and timely manner in order to ensure Ginna, Nine Mile Point and FitzPatrick remain a valued part of our communities for the thousands of families that depend on the facilities for their livelihood,” Toth said.

While Entergy supports the clean energy standard, the company has steadfastly said the changes come far too late to save FitzPatrick.

At recent PSC hearings on the clean energy standard in Oswego, former PSC Chairman John O’Mara suggested almost exactly what Ritchie proposed this week: that NYPA take over ownership of the plant, potentially with some kind of operation agreement with Exelon, owners of the nearby Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station.

But Exelon did not specifically respond to questions over the feasibility of that scenario or Ritchie’s legislation, which is Senate Bill S8032.

“Exelon is concentrated on the safe and reliable operation of both Ginna and Nine Mile Point, and continued work toward a timely completion of the clean energy standard (CES),” Exelon spokesperson Jill Lyon said in a statement Thursday. “The CES is important for all upstate nuclear facilities.”

Lyon noted recently that without the CES, Nine Mile — which with two reactors has steered clear of direct public mention of closure this past year — faced financial challenges similar to those at FitzPatrick and other nuclear facilities.

“If we do not see a long-term path to sustainable profitability, we must consider all options, including shutdown,” Lyon said of Nine Mile last week.

NYPA sold FitzPatrick and Buchanan’s Indian Point Energy Center to Entergy for $967 million in 2000, a record deal for the industry, according to NYPA records.

The governor says he wants Indian Point closed but FitzPatrick to remain open; Indian Point, though, remains profitable for Entergy.

Talks between the Governor’s Office, the PSC and Entergy earlier this year failed to change FitzPatrick’s fate. The plant is scheduled to begin closing in January.

Ritchie, who advocated for $100 million in the Senate's one-house bill to speed up proposed renewable energy tax credits, recently sent a letter to the PSC with more than 4,000 signatures supporting FitzPatrick.

“If no agreement can be reached, this is going to be a huge blight on Oswego County,” Ritchie said. “We’re looking at every viable option to keep the discussion going.”

Holden noted Entergy continued to work with FitzPatrick employees to help them prepare for their situation after the plant closes.

“We pledge to do our best to provide them support, resources, and information to assist in their decision-making during the transition,” she said.

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