ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The state will aim to generate half its power from renewable sources by the year 2030, an ambitious plan that will rely on big subsidies to nuclear power plants to help reduce the state's reliance on fossil fuels.
The policy adopted Monday by state utility regulators puts New York in the company of California, Hawaii and Vermont as having one of the strongest clean energy goals in the nation. New York now generates roughly a quarter of its energy from renewable sources.
"This clean energy standard shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combatting climate change," said Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who first laid out the "50 by '30" goal last year. "Make no mistake, this is a very threat that continues to grow by the day and I urge all other states to join us in this fight for our very future."
California already has a target of generating 50 percent of its power by 2030. Vermont hopes to hit 55 percent by next year and Hawaii has called for 100 percent renewable power by 2045. A long list of states have set more modest goals.
Many environmental groups cheered New York's move, but some opposed what they said were unnecessary and costly investments in nuclear power. In the first two years, the ratepayer subsidy will total an estimated $965 million, a figure that could grow to $7.6 billion over 12 years.
The money will go toward upgrades at upstate nuclear plants to extend their lifespan as the state ramps up its use of solar, wind and other renewables.
Alex Beauchamp, northeast director for the group Food & Water Watch, called that "a step in the wrong direction."
"New York needs a true clean energy revolution to move the state to 100 percent renewable energy, but the billions announced today to bail out an old, dangerous and unprofitable technology make that revolution even more difficult," he said.
Labor unions supported the proposal, noting that nuclear plants employ thousands of workers upstate.
Exelon Corp. operates the Ginna and Nine Mile Point nuclear plants and has plans to acquire a third one, FitzPatrick, from Entergy. The company employs 1,400 at its two existing plants.
"We applaud Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration for their leadership," said Exelon President and CEO Chris Crane. "Approval of the clean energy standard makes New York a true leader in terms of support for zero-emissions energy, including both renewables and nuclear power."
Cuomo has called for the closure of the state's fourth nuclear plant, the Entergy-owned Indian Point facility on the Hudson River just north of New York City, saying it is located too close to the nation's largest population center.
Members of the state's Public Service Commission, which approved the plan on Monday, said they understand the concerns of those opposed to nuclear power. But they said the state's use of fossil fuels would actually grow if the plants don't continue to operate.
Other clean energy organizations took a similarly long view of the policy.
"In the big picture it's an enormous step forward," said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York. "We're neutral on the nuclear. ... We just hope it's a temporary bridge to a renewable future, but we know it takes time to get these renewable projects built."
New York's leading business organization said the state didn't properly take into account the economic burden of higher energy costs associated with the new renewable energy standards.
"This failure will cost New York state businesses billions of dollars and put current and future New York manufacturing jobs, and jobs in other energy-intensive sectors, in mortal danger," said Darren Suarez, director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State.