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Suffolk Closeup
Here we go again: Cuomo’s clean energy plan, despite goals for renewables, wrongheadedly boosts nuclear power

File photo: Peter Blasl

A line of speakers testified last week at a state-sponsored hearing at the Suffolk County Center in Riverside on a plan that would have 50 percent of the electricity used in New York in 2030 come from renewable power. That would be a major change for New York.

And this happened while just the day before came the announcement that State Senator Kenneth LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. had introduced legislation to produce a big change involving power in this area, a LIPA Ratepayers Protection Act.

Praising the state for making “renewable energy a priority,” Janet Van Sickle of Montauk declared before a panel from the state Department of Public Service last Tuesday, “We owe our children and our grandchildren a sustainable future.”

Gordian Raacke, executive director of East Hampton-based Renewable Energy Long Island, testified that the state plan is a “huge step forward and a right step forward.” He, like other speakers, emphasized, too, the importance of off-shore wind energy in enabling Long Island to reach the goal of half of electricity coming from renewable sources. Raacke said “we have a tremendous and abundant resource” in offshore wind. “We need to tap into that resource.”

“I love the ocean,” said Julie Burmeister of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee and also the Southampton Town Sustainability Committee. And winds blowing out in the ocean are, she said, “the solution” to energy needs on Long Island.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, noted that his company was now “completing” off Block Island east of Long Island the first U.S. offshore wind farm. And, he continued, it is readying a project for an even larger wind farm southeast of Long Island. He said offshore wind “holds a very unique potential” for Long Island In the face of “population density” on shore. He also said offshore wind “solves” the island’s energy issue. Moreover, Deepwater Wind’s turbines are “over the horizon and out of sight.”

What the state is calling a “50 by 30” plan, advanced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is formally titled a “Clean Energy Standard.” As the Department of Public Service explained in a statement: “Governor Cuomo directed the Public Service Commission to design and enact a new Clean Energy Standard mandating that 50 percent of all electricity consumed in New York by 2030 come from clean and renewable energy sources.” However, the next line in the statement is: “The proposed Clean Energy mandate also includes a proposal to support emissions-free upstate nuclear power.” That component of the state plan drew strong criticism at the public hearing.

“Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable,” testified Pauline Salotti, vice chair of the Green Party of Suffolk County. “No way should it be considered renewable.”

Raacke said that the state should not seek to “prop up nuclear power” and spoke of the “nuclear folly” that went on “for years” on Long Island in the push for the Shoreham nuclear plant and the successful struggle against it. He objected to a “revisit to that past in the plan.”

Otherwise, there was general support by those speaking in the hearing room where otherwise the Suffolk County Legislature meets. Jeff Kagan of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization said “we’re all breathing bad air now” and that this is having a health impact. By utilizing renewable energy, there would be “cost-savings” by the avoidance of “medical impacts” of fossil fuel energy.
However, Kagan said, the “devil is in the details” in the state plan.

A key element of the LIPA Ratepayers Protection Act of LaValle and Thiele is the return to the original vision of the Long Island Power Authority when it was created — for it to be a public power entity with democratically elected trustees mapping the energy future of Long Island. Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, when he was governor, suspended the democratic election of LIPA trustees replacing it with their appointment by the governor, the Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader. Under the LaValle-Thiele measure, LIPA trustees would be elected “by the people of Long Island from eight districts of equal population.”

Further, the act “would restore transparency, oversight and local control” to LIPA, said the lawmakers from Suffolk in a statement. This would include “restoring the oversight” of LIPA by the state comptroller and state attorney general and making “the issuance of any further debt by LIPA… subject to a mandatory referendum of residents in the LIPA service area. LIPA would be responsible to Long Islanders, not Albany.” Also, their measure would “empower the Department of Public Service…to approve rate requests, not merely make recommendations.”

Andrew Cuomo, with what he called a LIPA “reform” measure in 2013, decimated LIPA —a move that both LaValle and Thiele correctly see as not having been reform but a huge mistake which they are trying to undo and bring real reform.

The boosting of “upstate nuclear power” in the state plan is in line with Cuomo’s support for the continuing operation of nuclear plants upstate despite his opposition to the Indian Point nuclear plants 26 miles north of New York City which he’s been demanding be shut down. He maintains that the upstate plants are important for the economies in the communities where they are located.

The Syracuse Post Standard in an article by Tim Knauss headlined “Cuomo’s Renewable Energy Plan Includes Boost for Upstate Nuclear Plants” quotes Syracuse attorney Joe Heath, counsel to the Onondaga Nation, as opposing this. Said Heath: “We should…not think that nukes are the answer.”

The upstate nuclear plants that Cuomo is backing — which his plan claims produce renewable energy — include the long-troubled Nine Mile Point and FitzPatrick nuclear plants in Scriba, although the current owner of FitzPatrick wants to close it this year because, says Entergy, it is not financially viable to operate.

Cuomo has taken an emphatic stand against the closing of FitzPatrick saying that the state would “pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal work force.” He has been joined on this by New York Senator Chuck Schumer whose spokesperson, Angelo Roefaro, was quoted in the New York Times as saying this “would be awful for the local economy and to hundreds of loyal and effective workers” at the nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, Newsday in an editorial last week charged the LaValle-Thiele bill was “election-year fodder” even though neither official is up for election this year and both have been overwhelmingly re-elected time and again. Newsday scoffed at the provision in the measure to “let voters elect” LIPA trustees. It claimed the measure was “utterly unworkable.” Newsday had crusaded incessantly in its editorials for the Shoreham nuclear power plant, ­stopped by a democratic process and groundswell.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Grossman and his wife Janet live in Sag Harbor.

Suffolk Closeup is a syndicated opinion column on issues of concern to Suffolk County residents.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.