The New York Public Service Commission (PSC), after studying how to achieve statewide goals of reducing carbon emissions by 40% and generating 50% of the state’s electricity with renewable sources by 2030, approved the Clean Energy Standard (CES). The CES accelerates the development of wind, solar and energy efficiency, and uses Zero Emission Credits (ZECs) to keep existing nuclear plants operating, which will hold down carbon emissions during the transition phase necessary for these other carbon-free options to ramp up to scale. While the CES has been endorsed by senior leaders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, New York League of Conservation Voters, Alliance for Clean Energy New York, The Nature Conservancy in New York, senior officials at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Obama Administration, and by leading climate change experts like Dr. James Hansen, some smaller groups (Food & Water Watch, and NYPIRG) have recently criticized the inclusion of nuclear power in the CES. They have suggested that the state’s objectives should be achieved with 100% renewable energy, an approach that was studied and rejected by the PSC as physically infeasible and unreasonably expensive.
These groups have wrongly called the ZEC program a ‘tax’ and claimed that it will raise New Yorkers’ electricity bills. In fact, it would save New York customers about a billion dollars a year, or $12 billion by 2030, compared with immediately replacing the upstate nuclear plants with 100% renewables, as these groups advocate. If the upstate nuclear plants were to shut down and were not replaced immediately with renewables, it would mean the loss of 15% of New York’s electricity supply; this would cause electricity prices and customer costs to rise by much more than the cost of ZECs.