Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cuomo Administration Seeks To Close Indian Point, But Lacks Suitable Energy Generating Alternatives

Governor Andrew Cuomo, fresh off his major win on the Marriage Equality Act, is setting his sights on closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant 35 miles north of New York City. The state recently adopted a new power plant siting law, which conceivably would make constructing new power generating facilities easier in the state, but the problem is multifold.
Mr. Cuomo is not the first politician or the first governor to take that position, but newly passed state legislation will make it easier for him to do so.

The meeting was the first high-level meeting between Entergy, the company that runs Indian Point, and the Cuomo administration, and it was convened at Entergy’s request.

Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly taken the position in speeches that he wants to close the plant. But his administration had not delivered the message so directly to the company, or in such strong words, and company officials left the meeting alarmed.

The encounter seemed to mark a heightened determination to close the plant, and recent events put considerable leverage in the governor’s hands to make his wish a reality.

On the day of the meeting, lawmakers were in the process of approving legislation to streamline the siting of new power plants in New York, a step that, for the first time in nearly a decade, makes replacing Indian Point and the huge amount of power it generates more feasible. The last siting law expired at the beginning of 2003.

At the same time, the licenses for Indian Point’s two reactors expire in 2013 and 2015. The state can derail the process by refusing to provide permits related to the plants’ use of water from the Hudson River as a coolant. Last year, the State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected a crucial permit application from Entergy; the company is challenging the move.

For the Cuomo administration, closing Indian Point would be a major step toward reshaping the state’s energy policy. Replacing the plant would take years and require a long-term energy strategy. The plant produces 2,000 megawatts and provides 25 percent of the power in New York City and Westchester.

Public worries about the plant, in Buchanan, about 35 miles north of Midtown, flared after the recent catastrophe at the Japanese nuclear plant in Fukushima, and after a report highlighting the Indian Point plant’s proximity to a fault line. But replacing it with natural gas plants or other more conventional options could bring its own environmental and emissions concerns.

It would take years before power plants are built that can replace the 2,000 megawatts produced by Indian Point. The plant produces 25% of New York City and Westchester's power needs. That can't be easily replaced and the alternatives are likely to worsen air quality in the region or cause other environmental issues.

Then, there's the issue of constructing new transmission lines that would bring power down from Canada and upstate New York. Those power lines are consistently opposed by NIMBY-types and further limit power producers and users from getting power - even if it's from hydropower or green-power sources like wind or solar.

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