08/12/2016 04:08 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2017

Nuclear's Multifaceted Value Proves The ZEC Is No Bailout

When is a bailout not a bailout? When the value of what's being supported far outweighs the cost of the alternatives. And when it comes to assessing the value of nuclear power, the Zero Emissions Credit (ZEC) in New York's newly approved Clean Energy Standard (CES) appropriately recognizes the many contributions our nuclear fleet makes--not only to environmental protection, but also to economic security.

The seriousness of the environmental stakes we face was emphasized in the December 2015 Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the spirit of this world policy milestone, Governor Cuomo set a goal for New York to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2030, making our state a world leader in fighting climate change. The ZEC in the CES recognizes that nuclear is crucial to meeting this ambitious benchmark and helps to assure that we can protect our planet for future generations.

The ZEC preserves nuclear as New York's largest provider of clean energy, generating fully 60 percent of our clean energy statewide. Those who object to supporting nuclear and look to wind and solar to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fail to recognize reality: despite the billions of dollars we've poured into the Renewable Portfolio Standard, wind and solar account for just four percent of New York's energy production--and, unlike nuclear facilities that operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, these technologies only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

Not only that, but the firmly entrenched culture of opposition to new energy projects in "No York" assures that scaling renewables up to baseload capacity will take many years, if it ever happens at all. Yet our nuclear fleet has, for decades, served the needs of our communities, businesses, and industries without adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

The support for nuclear provided in the ZEC will therefore yield immediate benefits at a relatively modest direct cost--and, indirectly, at an enormous savings relative to environmental cost, because the loss of any of our nuclear facilities would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to realize the CES. Given the limitations of renewables, we'd have to replace any lost nuclear plants with fossil fuels, and according to the white paper drafted by the Public Service Commission in support of the ZEC, our nuclear fleet prevents the emission of 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Indian Point, New York's largest nuclear facility, alone prevents the release of 8.5 million metric tons of carbon, the equivalent of keeping 1.6 million cars off the road, every year, similarly, upstate's, Ginna, FitzPatrick, and Nine Mile Point prevent a collective 15.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

The value of our nuclear facilities extends significantly beyond our environment, given all that they contribute to our economy. Statewide, our nuclear fleet accounts for 24,800 jobs directly and indirectly, with 600 workers employed at FitzPatrick, 1,400 at Ginna and Nine Mile Point, and more than 1,000 at Indian Point. All those jobs are accompanied by nearly $2.5 billion in economic activity, according to a 2015 study by the Brattle Group. Burdens on upstate taxpayers are relieved by $47 million paid by Ginna and Nine Mile Point and $97 million by FitzPatrick, while downstate communities benefit from Indian Point's $340 million in tax revenues. The ZEC's support for our nuclear plants is clearly met by ample rewards in jobs and revenues for New York.

The wisdom of the CES with ZEC has been verified by no less than the world's greatest climate scientists--including NASA's Jim Hansen, who coined the term "climate change"--, who've joined Environmental Progress president Michael Shellenberger in advocacy for our nuclear fleet. These experts know that the ZEC is an investment in our environmental and economic future that is already yielding abundant and incomparable returns.