Starting in February, customers of New York State Electric & Gas, a utility serving a large portion of upstate New York, began seeing a special charge on their bills. It amounts to roughly the same amount they are sending in to fund the state’s energy efficiency and renewable power programs. This “Reliability Support Services” fee is solely dedicated to what has thankfully become a rare source of power here in the Northeast. For the next year, NYSEG ratepayers will be subsidizing the operations of the Cayuga Generating Facility, a coal-fired power plant located in the Town of Lansing, just north of Ithaca in Tompkins County.
Huh? Coal? Did New York’s policymakers have a change of heart? Have we abandoned our commitment to fighting climate change? What about our tough air pollution laws? Nope, those are all still in place. Our pollution controls and energy markets did exactly what they were intended to, they pushed a polluting, inefficient dinosaur of a power plant to the brink of retirement. One problem, New York’s electric grid is so antiquated after decades of neglect; NYSEG actually needs this coal plant up and running for the next year until it can replace transmission lines and other equipment that probably should have been upgraded years ago. So now, not only do New York ratepayers have to pay to keep their system humming along, they will also have to shell out millions to purchase dirty coal fired electricity for the privilege to do so.
If the State is serious about transitioning to a 21st century energy economy, then the time has come for the utilities and the Public Service Commission to kick it into high gear and move forward with the modern, smart grid technologies that are going to guide us away from the dirty fossil fuels of the past.