Closure threat looms over Oswego County's Nine Mile 1 nuclear reactor

New "clean energy" subsidies needed by September

SCRIBA (WSYR-TV) - The company behind the Nine Mile 1 reactor in Oswego County alerted state officials that the unit could face closure if new clean energy credits are not in place by September.

While the Public Service Commission had already planned to finalize their incentives to nuclear power plants this summer, the company's bold declaration ramps up public pressure on the PSC to offer attractive credits, without delays. 

In a letter to the New York State Public Service Commission, Exelon Corp. stated that it will not undertake the $55 million cost of refueling Nine Mile 1, without assurances that the credit is a reasonable amount and will be approved quickly.

The letter states:

"A decision to invest tens of millions of dollars in units that are rapidly losing money cannot be justified on the hope that the CES (Clean Energy Standard) proceeding will ultimately result in contracts that will justify the investment."

Refueling is scheduled for March 2017. But, preparation involves months of work and planning.

Plant officials told the PSC they want a contract and it needs to be signed by September 2016, in order to give them enough time to order fuel and complete lengthy and complex refueling operations.

Martin Currier, a business representative for IBEW Local 97 which has hundreds of members at the plant, has worked with the Nine Mile operation for more than 30-years.

Over time, he has seen the market fluctuate and says he understands the company's tough stance.

"What's driving this really is our dependence and the low cost of cheap natural gas, not only in New York, but in other surrounding countries," Currier said. "It's driving the price of electricity down."

The letter to the PSC was sent on behalf of Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG), a joint venture entity. Exelon operates Nine Mile Point, under the CENG venture.

The letter continues:

"CENG cannot simply roll the dice and make substantial investments on the hope that the program ultimately adopted by the Commission is sufficient to justify the substantial investments and commitments required to enable continued operation of CENG’s upstate nuclear plants. Thus, CENG will need a contract in hand by September 2016. Time is of the essence."

If the PSC delays approval of the Clean Energy Standard requested by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Nine Mile 1 reactor could be the second of Oswego County’s three nuclear reactors to close. The FitzPatrick plant is scheduled to close by January 2017.

Many insiders think that scenario is unlikely. The idea alone is chilling enough to put Oswego County families on Exelon strong political leverage to flex their muscles.

A spokesperson for the PSC offered this response:

"The Department fully understands the difficulties facing the Upstate nuclear fleet, which is why we have been working for the past six months to create a plan that will ensure the future viability of these emission-free resources and continue New York’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Currier describes Exelon's letter as just another step in a long and complicated process undertaken by the PSC.

He feels the company is doing its part to inform the state of the consequences of a delay...and he's hopeful Nine Mile Unit 1 will stay on track.

 "Without it you'd lose jobs, and you'd certainly be more dependent on natural gas and more dependent on important power from Canada and surrounding states," he adds.

Assemblyman William Barclay says the push for zero emission credits is no surprise. He believes they are vital to keep upstate nuclear power plants alive.

"I have to say I'm optimistic. The Public Service Commission is the ones who are going to institute these tax credits. I've held several hearings throughout the state. I think I've heard very positive input on this and let's hope they can get it enacted and established by September when Exelon apparently has to make a decision whether to refuel their plant," said NYS Assemblyman William Barclay.

As frustration mounts over the political battles between the state and the owner of Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant, Exelon is promising to keep workers at their plant informed as the timeline plays out.

Below is a statement from Exelon Corp:

The timeline for addressing detailed mechanics of a final Clean Energy Standard (CES) for New York state energy consumers is tight.  Exelon has been candid and transparent with all parties in the CES process on the importance of achieving a CES in a timely manner.

We continue working very closely with all stakeholders to finalize a CES that properly values upstate nuclear units for their clean energy and reliability attributes. 

We will maintain as much transparency as possible on the timing of reaching a CES agreement and the impact of that schedule on our decision making process for upcoming plant operations milestones like refueling outages.

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