Officials host rally to continue operation of local nuclear power plant

Photo provided by Nuclear Regulatory Commission via Flickr
Photo provided by Nuclear Regulatory Commission via Flickr

On Monday, federal, state and local officials hosted a rally in support of the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant and nuclear power after an energy company considered closing the facility.

In attendance were New York Congressmen John Katko of the 24th district and Richard Hanna of the 22nd district, State Senator Patty Ritchie, Assemblyman Will Barclay, Assemblyman Bob Oaks and Oswego County Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner. Over 2,000 local residents raised concerns for FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant’s employees, their families and community members.

The rally was an effort for the local community to show their support for the work that Central New York lawmakers have put in to save the plant after an announcement from Entergy Corp. that it was considering closing the facility.

According to statements released by Entergy Corp., FitzPatrick struggles to make money because wholesale electric prices in Central New York have been depressed by plentiful natural gas, which fuels many power plants.

Entergy CEO Leo Denault last week said that FitzPatrick operates in a “very challenged market.”

Based on this, the company will decide whether to refuel the plant as scheduled or to pass on the scheduled refueling and close the plant. FitzPatrick employees were told by plant officials last week that the decision will be made this month.

If the plant were to close, it would be devastating to not only FitzPatrick employees and family members, but the local community and all of Oswego County.

“There is no question that the loss of Fitzpatrick nuclear energy plant would affect not only Oswego County, but our entire Central New York region,” Katko said.

Not only will it affect those whose jobs are specific to FitzPatrick, it will also affect many of the local businesses such as Canales and other local restaurants who get a portion of their business from FitzPatrick employees who commute daily.

“At least a quarter of the school budget comes from the taxes paid by the plant,” said Nicole Wild, whose husband is a teacher at Mexico High School.

She said that she is not worried about her husband’s job because he teaches math, but she is concerned for other areas such as art, music and sports.

Without the revenue provided by the plant these areas may be severely limited or forced to be cut. The high school and junior high band members from Mexico were at the rally. Without funding provided by the plant, they would not be able to come out in support of events such as this.

In addition to the technical jobs, the plant also provides employment for several supporting areas such as electricians, painters and carpenters, many of which were out in force at the rally. In addition to providing jobs for these professions, working at the plant also provided the opportunity to work with the unions. Bill Weimer, a retired FitzPatrick carpenter, said that the ability to work with the unions provided better and safer working conditions, without the plant and unions many would be forced to take jobs in unsafe working environments.

Low power prices fueled by cheap natural gas are making it difficult for FitzPatrick to make money. The aging plant has struggled financially for years. Entergy closed a similar plant, Vermont Yankee, last year. The company’s cash flow has benefited from that decision, Denault said.