Can New York force FitzPatrick to stay open?
If the owner of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant refuses to keep the facility open, can the state force it to? That’s the question after FitzPatrick owner Entergy has rejected several offers to help keep the financially stressed plant from closing in January. The company says it’s too late, but some think the state may not need Entergy’s approval.
When the closure was announced last November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York would “pursue every legal and regulatory avenue” to try to stop it. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) echoed those sentiments, and said at the time he thinks there is a government entity that can stop the closure: the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC regulates the state’s utilities and ensures there’s enough energy for New York consumers.
“The PSC for instance, has to approve of such a closing, and reliability is a key aspect of what the PSC will look at,” Schumer said. “So, there are ways that we can try to avoid this closing, and I’ll do everything I can to see that happens.”
What would happen to grid reliability — or the local and statewide power grid if Fitzpatrick went dark? It’s a question the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) studied after Entergy announced the closure. The results were mixed. It found that if FitzPatrick and several other plants in the area close soon, there would be a statewide power shortfall of 325 megawatts but not until 2019. Schumer said that’s the ammunition the PSC needs to fight Entergy.
“As I understand it, there are still reliability issues and the PSC could require them to do certain things if they find those reliability issues to be true and I would urge the PSC to do a thorough investigation of reliability and use all of its clout to keep it open,” Schumer said.
If there’s a power shortfall, like what was found in this study, then the PSC can force FitzPatrick to stay open, right? Perhaps. NYISO first has to invite bids from plants to fill that power need. It prefers to go with option A: a private market solution. But, NYISO can go with option B: where it pays a plant, such as FitzPatrick, with surcharges on customer energy bills. That money could keep FitzPatrick afloat. But, the nuclear plant doesn’t have to bid and Entergy’s vice president for external affairs, Mike Twomey, said they likely won’t.
“We would essentially have to bid in that we are available to serve 325 megawatts and you might get paid for that and you might not, depending on whether there’s a need three years from now,” Twomey said.
Also, it’s important to note that NYISO will look for the lowest bid. Nuclear power is not exactly cheap, reducing FitzPatrick’s shot at the winning the contract. Twomey said the plant is at a disadvantage for another reason.