Last August the New York State Public Service Commission ordered the State’s utilities to buy electricity at higher rates from four nuclear power plants in the Lake Ontario region of upstate New York whose owners had threatened to close them. The order takes effect on April 1 and requires a $482 million annual rate increase, about 2% of the State’s electric bills. The order imposes a 10% increase every two years(subject to revision) through 2027 with the purchase requirement ending in 2029. The plants are big employers and many jobs would be lost if the plants closed. To replace the lost output would require nearby fossil-fuel power plants to increase their output, contributing to global warming.
Exelon and Entergy, the plant owners, blamed low natural gas prices for causing them to lose money on the price of their power. The Public Service Commission did a case review of the costs of the plants( and their profitability) but kept the review confidential by requiring participants in the case to sign agreements not to disclose what they learned. The Commission also did an analysis based on the avoided cost of burning coal to come up with a price the owners should be paid to avoid the shutdown.
The Commission then required every utility to buy its proportionate share of the State’s total electric load, no matter how much of the output of the four nukes actually got transmitted and sold into each region’s service territory. That meant that the downstate electric customers in New York City and its suburbs would have to pay about 60% of the price hike. The Commission published no information on how much of the nuke output was used in different parts of the state, justifying the allocation by saying there was a statewide environmental benefit to avoiding burning more fossil fuels. That was true but the obvious real economic beneficiaries were the local workers who kept their jobs, the local residents who would lose the plant’s property taxes, and the plant owners who kept their profits.
Con Ed’s customers will pay an extra $190 million a year for the nuke bailout,on top of a $360 million rate increase the Commission just gave the company in January. The ordinary rate hike is stiff but at least it correlates with investments Con Ed is making in its service territory. The Public Service Commission’s members are appointed by Governor Cuomo with the consent of the State Senate. The State Assembly conducted a hearing on the nuclear bailout a few weeks ago but the Public Service Commission failed to appear to testify and then its Chairperson left to take a job in Australia.