Debate Over Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Heats Up as Reactor Licenses Close In on Expiration

The Indian Point Energy Center (nuclear power plant), located in Buchanan, N.Y., just north of New York City, has long been a lightning rod of attention.

The current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has wanted to close it for a long time. When Cuomo ran for governor back in 2001, he talked about closing Indian Point. He lost that election but in 2010 won and took over the top state job. Almost immediately, he made closing the two nuclear reactors at Indian Point a high priority, in his speeches and media interviews. (Indian Point has two active reactors, with one up for relicensing in 2013 and the other in 2015.)

Cuomo’s major reasoning for wanting to close the plant is his fear of a nuclear spill disaster like the one that occurred in Fukushima, Japan, last year. But the New York governor also feels that Indian Point is a relic — a plant that doesn’t need to exist anymore — and that the state can find a way to replace the energy production that Indian Point currently provides.

 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County, N.Y., is a safety threat, but local business leaders are afraid that closing it could damage the economy and environment.

 

In 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave MSNBC a list of the American nuclear power plants most at risk of core damage, which can lead to meltdowns and radiation release, from earthquakes.

The NRC made Indian Point the top of that list.

The piling on Indian Point continued, for a different reason. A Natural Resources Defense Council report commissioned that same year said safer, cleaner energy options were available to replace the 2,065 megawatts of electricity generation from Indian Point, claiming that there would be no impact to the reliability of the electricity supply to the region and that the cost was modest.

But there is a group in Westchester County that thinks all the experts and politicians are overlooking Indian Point’s contribution to the surrounding economy, and disputes the naysayers of Indian Point when it comes to safety and clean energy as well.

The Business Council of Westchester released a study last week that refutes much of the criticisms of Indian Point.

The entire study can be downloaded here, but it concluded the following if Indian Point were shut down:

  • Electricity rates would increase by 6.3 percent or more, with consumers paying an additional $374 million per year for power.
  • By 2020, the probability of power outages would increase by 280 percent.
  • Carbon emissions would increase by more than six million tons annually, which is the equivalent of adding 1 million more vehicles.
  • Westchester County would lose more than 3,300 jobs — many of them high-paying — representing over $200 million per year in lost wages.
  • Westchester County would lose $75 million per year in property taxes and revenue sharing with the state.
  • Contributions to local charitable organizations would decline by $2 million annually.
  • The downstate regional economy would be drained by some $11.5 billion (inflation adjusted).

Several conclusions in the report seem far-fetched, but John Ravitz, executive vice president of the Business Council of Westchester, stood by the group’s findings.

“A study like ours reminds people that it may sound great to shut down a nuclear power plant, but they don’t realize how much our local economy, and how many thousands of lives, closing a plant would effect,” Ravitz said. “Our number-one responsibility is to look out for the people in this community who would be affected, and closing [Indian Point] would have a devastating effect.”

Howard Axelrod, president of Energy Strategies Inc., an Albany, N.Y.-based management firm, crunched the numbers for the Business Council of Westchester and explained how the figures were reached.

Axelrod said the 3,300 job losses takes into account not just the number of Indian Point employees (about 1,200) but also job losses from local businesses that would suffer from the plant’s shuttering.

When it comes to the assertion that electricity rates would go up by 6.3 percent or more, Axelrod said he calculated that figure by taking the average difference between local utility Con Edison’s purchased power agreement for Indian Point and other sources of energy that could replace it. His research estimated that the difference in price would be $55 per megawatt.

“We pulled out Con Ed’s cost structure and how much it would cost if we didn’t have Indian Point,” Axelrod explained. “And we looked at what our viable energy alternatives to Indian Point are right now. In the short run, there aren’t a lot of viable options. In a year or two, we might get a couple of megawatts of wind and a few megawatts of solar.”

Axelrod concluded, “Realistically, a combined cycle of gas and turbine would be our best bet if we had to replace all that energy right now, and that takes a while to get together and would result in higher prices for consumers.”

Governor Cuomo has repeatedly said that replacement power for Indian Point would not be more expensive, and that the way to replace the power would involve retrofitting old power plants, building new ones and improving transmission lines.

Another dubious-sounding result of the report was that carbon emissions would increase by more than six million tons annually as result of Indian Point’s closure.

Axelrod explained this by assuming in his model that Indian Point would be replaced by a gas plant and resultant use of shale gas. The report stated that while Indian Point produces no significant amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, or sulfur dioxide, the cycle gas turbine plant would produce 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Axelrod’s figures rely heavily on a 2010 report by NERA Economic Consulting, a business research group.

There are other conclusions in the report that talk about other negative impacts of shutting down Indian Point and certainly from a business perspective. It is a fine balance to weigh between the local economic health and the safety and environmental concerns — one with which owners of power plants and the townspeople who live near them constantly have to wrestle.

One point that most experts agree on is that as long as Entergy Corp., the company that owns the plant, is meeting its safety and financial responsibilities, the NRC isn’t likely to shut the plant down when the license expires.

“We support the Governor wanting to look for alternative sources of energy, but for us, it all comes down to jobs,” Axelrod said. “To take away this plant from this area would really have a major detrimental effect on the community.”

 

 

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