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Where Does Upstate Begin (Ep. LVXIII)? ⋆ Epeak . Independent news and blogs

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State Sen. Tony Avella. (Lori Van Buren, Times Union)

As recounted in my Sunday column, State Sen. Tony Avella on Valentine’s Day introduced legislation that would protect downstate ratepayers from having to pay the marginal increase in utility rates statewide to cover the state’s aid package to maintain the operation of four upstate nuclear reactors.

The rate increase, slated to take effect in April of 2017, is estimated to cost $965 million over the first two years, according to a Public Service Commission staff estimate. The same estimate argues that “the economic and environmental benefits associated with carbon reductions, supply cost savings and property tax benefits” would tote up to $5 billion, for a net benefit of around $4 billion.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the package will help the state meet the goals of the Clean Energy Standard, which requires half of New York’s electricity to be produced by renewable sources by 2030. Environmental groups are split on the proposal.

Avella’s concerns, as expressed in the bill, are regional.

“The ratepayer-funded nuclear power plant subsidies solely benefit upstate plants, yet downstate residents who receive minimal benefit from their operation will fund nearly 60 percent of this subsidy,” the bill’s justification memo notes. “This increase is fundamentally unfair to those downstate residents who benefit little, if anything, from the operation of the upstate plants.”

This might be a good time to point out that the Queens lawmaker, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, is pondering a run for mayor of New York City.

Here’s the text of the measure, which is now before the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications:

OK, does anyone see a problem with this language? Anyone?

Yes — you in the back. With the red sweater. Speak up.

Mmm-hm. Yes! Good eye: The legislation fails to answer the age-old question: Where does upstate begin? Should we make the cutoff at Yonkers? Tarrytown? The Bear Mountain Bridge? Just north of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s house in Mount Kisco?

Avella’s spokesman Conner Quinn said the bill would be amended.

“We’re only going to change the verbiage to say that any county not receiving the benefits of the plant[s] will be exempt since there were questions about what ‘downstate’ meant,” he said in an email.

Asked who would be tasked with determining which counties those are, he said such details “are still in the works.”

“After introducing this we started hearing from advocacy groups who have been working on the issue for much longer who have ideas that we want to discuss,” Quinn said. “We didn’t realize just how many people were fighting this tax before we got involved. The legislation will definitely start to take shape in the coming days (definitions, verbiage, etc.). But the spirit of the bill won’t change.”

This is not the first time the poor construction of an Avella bill has come up for analysis on CapCon.

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