Editorial from Times Union
Editorial: A surprise tax on the way
Published 4:41 pm, Thursday, February 9, 2017
New Yorkers are in store for a hike in electricity bills to subsidize four nuclear plants.
Is this the best way to provide clean energy and jobs?
By its own account, 2016 was a "monumental year" for Exelon, for good reason. It's not every year that a company gets a $7.6 billion boost courtesy of New Yorkers.
Exelon is slated to reap that windfall over the next 12 years through a fee on just about anyone who gets an electric bill in New York, all to support its nuclear power plants in the state. That's an energy tax by any other name, but as a fee levied by a state commission, it has drawn far less attention than, say, an income tax increase of that scale would receive.
Lawmakers, however, will have a chance to take a closer look at this huge corporate subsidy for a company with an annual net income of more than $2 billion. They'll also have a chance to look more closely at how this new tax came about in yet another example of New York's shadow government at work.
The money will be raised in the form of Zero Emissions Credits, which, simply put, translate into a fee on electric utility bills in the state. It will go to Exelon as part of a deal to keep open its two Nine Mile Nuclear Station plants and its James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Scriba, and its R.E Ginna Plant near Rochester, for a dozen more years.
The state argues that nuclear power is an important part of its plan to have half of New York's electricity come from clean renewable sources by 2030. Many environmentalists disagree with classifying nuclear power as clean energy.
While it generates no carbon emissions, it produces toxic waste for which no plan exists to provide the necessary centuries of safe storage. Nuclear accidents, while rare, are devastating and can threaten populations in large areas, a point Gov. Andrew Cuomo has acknowledged in calling for the closure of the Indian Point close to New York City.
Mr. Cuomo, however, has a different calculation upstate, where the plants are valued for the jobs they provide, and political leader are less wary of nuclear energy.
One might be tempted to say, fine, let communities make up their own minds about nuclear power, except for this: The entire state will have to foot the bill for a $7.6 billion economic development program to pay for 2,100 jobs for just a dozen more years and directly enrich one of the nation's wealthiest power companies.
All this was decided by the governor and three members of the Public Service Commission (which will shortly be down to only two). Hardly taxation with representation.
With the fee due to take effect in April, and the Legislature next week scheduled to review the energy and environment portions of the governor's budget, it's a good time for lawmakers to consider if this is the best route to a clean energy future, the best way to help upstate communities, and the best use of the public's money. They may agree this is a reasonable short-term strategy. Or they may conclude there are far better investments the state could make in these areas and in clean energy, at far less cost to hard-working New Yorkers.
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