For years, opponents of the Indian Point nuclear power plant 35 miles north of the heart of Manhattan have faced a challenging question (from friends and foes alike): Where does the replacement power come from if the plant’s two operating reactors are shuttered?
It’s a fair question even from the perspective of a renewable energy advocate.
So can we keep the lights on if Indian Point stops producing electricity?
The owner of the Buchanan-based plant, Entergy, says no. Nothing surprising about that. Entergy, which purchased Indian Point a decade ago, spends a lot of money trying to convince New Yorkers that the region can’t live without the plant. The New Orleans-based company has even used the New York Yankees radio broadcast to get its message out. (If you are a fan and occasionally listen to games on WCBS 880, you have probably heard the “Yankees Power Report brought to you by Indian Point Energy Center.” I must admit, I cringe every time I hear it, and I know I'm not the only one bothered by this irritating use of New York’s winningest team.)
Seeking some star power, Entergy recently brought former New York City Mayor-turned-celebrity Rudy Giuliani on board its PR flotilla to help reassure the public that the plant is safe and that our region needs the juice the plant produces. (This is not the first time Giuliani was hired by Entergy; his firm performed work for the company shortly after the 9/11 attack.) His new gig has drawn mixed responses.
As have the “safe” and “vital” claims made by Entergy, which is seeking approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the relicensing of Units 2 and 3 for an additional 20 years of operation. (Unit 2’s initial license expires in 2013 and that of Unit 3 in 2015.) These claims were once again challenged, this time by two in-depth analyses - released bythe environmental groups Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Riverkeeper - that address the replacement power and safety issues.
In an independent analysis commissioned by the two groups, it’s more apparent than ever that there are a wide range of safer, cleaner energy alternatives available to replace the beleaguered plant. These options – which include energy efficiency, renewables such as solar and wind power, new transmission projects and repowered natural gas plants – can be implemented within the next 10 years, and many earlier than that. The Riverkeeper/NRDC news release succinctly summarizes those options:
- About 1,550 MW in savings from new energy efficiency resources in the Indian Point region, beyond those that are already planned. Additional savings are available in the rest of the state.
- Nearly 600 MW of renewable energy capacity to meet peak electricity demand (and up to 3,000 MW total capacity) by 2015. In total, more than 6,000 MW of renewable energy projects like wind and solar are already in the planning process in the state.
- 8,000 MW from proposed new transmission lines to bring power to New York City from upstate New York and other regions, including the already approved 660 MW Hudson Transmission Line, and nearly 2,000 MW of lines are already well along in the approval process.
- More than 1,000 MW from increased efficiency at existing, outdated natural gas plants in New York City, which involves updating their technology to increase power output and reduce air emissions and other pollution.
In terms of reliability, the same report illustrates that there is currently a surplus of electricity capacity in downstate regions near Indian Point – New York City, Westchester County and Long Island – and the availability of imported power means that if the plant is not relicensed and both units are retired by 2015, and no other actions are taken, there will be no impacts on reliability of electricity supply in the region until 2020. This would provide sufficient breathing room to plan for and put in place the aforementioned energy alternatives without significant cost increases to consumers.
A second analysis by NRDC compares the human and financial costs of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe in Japan to the potential risks of a nuclear disaster at Indian Point, and reveals that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission still underestimates the threat posed to Indian Point from seismic activity. An accident at one of Indian Point’s reactors on the scale of the recent crisis halfway around the world could send a fallout plume south to the NYC metropolitan area, require the sheltering or evacuation of millions of people, and cost ten to 100 times more than Fukushima’s disaster. (Fukushima’s cleanup and compensation costs alone are at about $60 billion and counting.)
All of this new information will be invaluable to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has called for Indian Point’s closure and expressed confidence that the power can be replaced.
No doubt also important to Cuomo and his efforts to close Indian Point is that the environmental powerhouses of NRDC and Riverkeeper have teamed up. Together Riverkeeper, which has been leading an effective Indian Point campaign for over a decade, and NRDC, under the leadership of Frances Beinecke, are a formidable alliance.
Beinecke, NRDC’s President, captures what is at stake:
“The world watched the nuclear crisis in Japan with fear and heavy hearts; no one wants to see a repeat here in one of the most densely populated regions of the country. Fortunately, we have a wealth of safer energy sources ready to go that can fully replace the power from Indian Point. When we consider the human and economic costs of a nuclear crisis in New York, and the host of benefits from investing in clean energy, the solution is common sense.”
Of those calling for Indian Point’s permanent retirement, it would be difficult to find someone more adamant than Robert Kennedy Jr., Chief Prosecuting Attorney for Riverkeeper and Senior Attorney at NRDC. For me, his recent comments really frame the issue well:
“The more you learn about Indian Point, the more you know it must close. It’s too old, near too many people, and too vulnerable to fire, earthquake, outside attack and a host of other potential disasters. What’s more, we simply don’t need Indian Point’s dirty, dangerous power…New York is safer, more secure and simply better off without Indian Point.”
Can New York live without Indian Point and its electricity? According to Kennedy, Beinecke, Riverkeeper and NRDC the answer is a resounding YES!
Entergy’s relicensing bid for Indian Point is in jeopardy for a variety of reasons, most notably due to the New York State Department of Conservation’s decision in April of last year to deny Entergy a critical water quality certificate the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires in its licensing. According to these requirements, the NRC cannot issue a license extension to a nuclear power plant unless the plant is certified by its host state as meeting state water quality standards, as required under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. Given the potential for Indian Point’s relicensing application to be denied, it would behoove us to plan for life without the plant.