Ahead of hearing, Maziarz unveils bills aimed at coal plants

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The chair of the state Senate’s energy committee is out with a new package of bills today which he says would help spur coal-fired power plants to switch to natural gas.

Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, Niagara County, is set to formally unveil the bills today at a energy committee hearing in western New York today.

Maziarz’ legislation would allow power plants to take a 12.5 percent tax credit on any improvements that are necessary to comply with environmental standards laid out in the state’s new energy siting bill. The bills would also make changes to the state’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative program, allowing plants to take the money they pay for carbon credits and use it to transition to cleaner technology.

In particular, the bills are aimed at a number of struggling coal plants that represent a large share of their community’s tax base, such as former AES plants in Tompkins and Niagara counties. (The Tompkins County plant has alerted the state of its intention to mothball the facility come January.)

“That’s really what the hearing is about today, is not giving up on these plants,” Maziarz said in a phone interview. “Most of them are coal plants. They can be converted to natural gas plants, and the price of natural gas is the cheapest than its probably been since the mid-1980s.”

The cost of the plan, however, wasn’t immediately clear, though Maziarz said that allowing the coal plants to close — the Niagara County plant is by far the largest county taxpayer, for example — would be a much greater cost.

What to do with the limping coal plants was a late-session topic of conversation in Albany earlier this year, when the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office quietly pushed a proposal that would lower the state’s emissions cap, which would increase the cost of carbon credits. The governor’s plan would then take those funds and distribute them to communities that see a major power plant close.

After the jump, you can read a summary of the plan being proposed by Maziarz, as well as a list of those testifying at the hearing later today.

  • Support for NYTRANSCO with its focus on in-state transmission and jobs and opposition to by-passing upstate generation and jobs through the risky importation called the Champlain-Hudson Power Express.
  • Supporting generation jobs through allowing power plants to access Excelsior Jobs credits.
  • Creating a “Clean Fuel Repowering Tax Credit” to allow any power plant that is willing to meet the stringent environmental standards established in the 2011 Power New York Act, to take at least a 12,5% as right tax credit on necessary improvements.
  • Creating a “NY Clean Energy Innovation Fund” that will be paid for through the sale of NYPA peaker plants in New York City. This is expected to produce $300-$700 million and will be used to assist plants with repowering and communities with diminishing tax bases due to retiring plants.
  • Allowing repowering projects that meet strict environmental standards to access low-interest debt financing though the state of New York.
  • Leveling the playing field by taking away environmental exemptions that currently benefit aging oil fired plants and at the same time distort the capacity market, and applying RGGI charges to any power imported from outside the state or country.
  • Allow plants to committed to repowering, utilizing cleaner burning fuel technologies or adding elements of renewable energy to “bank” RGGI credits to assist in paying for these upgrades.
Among those testifying today are representatives of coal plants in western New York, Independent Power Producers CEO Gavin Donohue, Somerset town supervisor Dan Engert, Ken Pokalsky of the Business Council, Tom Rumsey of the state Independent System Operator, Phil Wilcox and Michael Lutz of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Paul Haering of the NYTRANSCO project.
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