Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New York Power Authority should buy FitzPatrick back (Commentary)

John T. Sullivan Jr.

James A. FitzPatrick was a Plattsburgh attorney who became chairman of the New York Power Authority. The Oswego County nuclear plant is named in his honor, and was built in the 1970s to help diversify New York's energy generating capacity and to provide lower-cost power than commercial generators. It could do that, in part, because it is a state authority, pledged to operate in the public interest, and profit is not its only bottom line. Progress is as important to generate as much as profit when you are a public authority. 

The FitzPatrick plant was sold in 2000 to a for-profit New Orleans-based energy company called Entergy. George Pataki was then governor, and it was his appointed board that negotiated the sale, pledging that Entergy as buyer would continue to honor NYPA's contracts with municipalities and among other buyers, the New York City subway system, with low-cost FitzPatrick power. It turns out that sale was a mistake.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's NYPA needs to buy back the plant, keep it open, and find ways of distributing its power to parts of the state where it is still cheaper than locally produced power and desperately needed. 

Keeping New York energy self-sufficient ... is a job for which the New York Power Authority was originally created.

When temperatures soar in the summer, New York's grid system strains to keep the lights on. Shutting down a safe, reliable, non-carbon-polluting source whose product is or could be competitively priced in the more densely populated urban areas of New York would be a huge mistake. Keeping New York energy self-sufficient, with reliable and reasonably priced power, is a job for which the New York Power Authority was originally created. We must not let it abandon ship. We need to hold the authority accountable, and make it do the right thing: Buy FitzPatrick back. 

NYPA also should be leading the charge to fix New York's power grid system. We need to remove bottlenecks so that nuclear and other power generated in the more sparsely populated areas of the state, which are welcoming to the nuclear industry, can make its way to the urban population centers. They need the power, but don't want to live near the risk of unachievable mass population exodus which may be necessary in a calamity. That risk is minimal, but it is still real. There is a 1 in 163,000 chance of the plant being affected by an earthquake. I am willing to accept that risk and so are most other Central New Yorkers, for the concomitant benefit. The plant should remain open.

James A. Fitzpatrick must be turning over in his grave given the fate of his namesake. It is being forsaken by a Southern state-oriented utility conglomerate whose only concern is shareholder profit. It doesn't have to be this way. New York still needs power. Nuclear power has proved to be safe and reliable for over 40 years. It needs to remain in the mix as we migrate to greener, non-fossil-fueled energy sources. 

According to Entergy's website: 

Generating electricity with nuclear energy prevents the emission of pollutants like sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) associated with burning fossil fuels.

During 2013, environmental emissions avoided due to nuclear power plant operation in New York State included tons of sulfur dioxide, 14,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Emissions of SO2 lead to the formation of acid rain. NOx is a key precursor of both ground-level ozone and smog. Greenhouse gases like CO2 contribute to global warming.

New York state and Oswego County need the 600 good-paying jobs and the positive $70 plus million dollar impact of the Fitzpatrick plant on the local and state economy. New York state can fix this problem, and the solution is for NYPA to stand up for New York, be counted, and buy back the plant. Nothing more and nothing less. 

According to its website, "NYPA's primary mission has always been to allocate low-cost, reliable power to invigorate the state's economy." Enough said. Time for action. Buy it back, NYPA. Fix the problem.

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