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August 9, 2020


Coupled with the planned closure of Indian Point, some experts say aging natural gas-fired power plants will further limit the New York City region's electric power production while polluting the air. Photo Credit: Daily Voice
Indian Point Photo Credit: File

Permanent Indian Point Shutdown Will Increase Gas Plant Pollution, Global Warming

The latest in a series of articles about Indian Point.

New York state is responding to warnings from the United Nations, multiple federal agencies and others that it is not doing enough to avert a climate change disaster. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo now pledges to bring New York state to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. This is a marked increase of the existing mandate that 50 percent of New York state's electricity would come from renewable energy sources by 2030. Implementing the new 2040 mandate will require the use of carbon-free nuclear power, as previously reported here by DV Plus.

Both the 2030 and the new 2040 mandates require huge changes in the state's infrastructure. However, the state has not done well in large infrastructure issues, as shown by the continuing crisis in the New York City subway system which was allowed to fall into significant disrepair. Nor has the State properly responded to the electricity supply challenges that New York City is facing. Already 22 percent of NYC's gas power plants are far beyond the age when they should have been replaced. By 2026, this over-aged percentage rises to 41 percent. (See Figure A-1 above.)

Another major infrastructure issue is the planned closure of the two Indian Point nuclear units, starting next year. These carbon-free power plants supply 25 percent of NYC's electricity and 25 percent of Westchester County's electricity. Where will the replacement electricity come from? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that these plants are safe and has renewed the IP2 and IP3 licenses until April 30, 2024 and April 30, 2025, respectively. These license renewal dates coincide with the four year extension dates permitted in the Indian Point Closure Agreement.

Everyone has an opinion, but does anyone have a clear solution for clean replacement power? Because of the many unknowns, it's a debate in which all sides appear polarized in disagreement.

There is this 2011 analysis commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper, and an updated Synapse Energy Economics report from 2017 accessible by clicking here. 

Or, examine this 2017 analysis by New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), accessible  by clicking here: The NYISO report showed that only gas is being considered as a replacement for Indian Point, not the emissions-free sources that Gov. Cuomo  promised when he signed the January 2017 Closure Agreement with Entergy, the plants' operator. It now seems that even this gas replacement idea is shaky. There will be a very large electricity shortfall even if all three gas plants identified in this report are used to replace Indian Point.

When the governor signed the 2017 Closure Agreement, he committed to emissions-free replacement power. This is not happening since three natural gas plants, now under construction, are planned to replace Indian Point. The non-profit environmental group Riverkeeper -- also a party to the Closure Agreement -- strongly opposes the use of gas to replace Indian Point. 

Replacing nuclear power entirely by fossil fuels will cause huge amounts of greenhouse gases to be emitted, enough to completely wipe out --- in just two years -- the cumulative environmental gains that all the upstate wind turbines and solar panels have made since 2003. Further, new gas plants were originally supposed to help New York City with its growing reliability challenge. 

For years, state agencies have concluded that if Indian Point did not operate, the state would immediately fail to meet its own reliability criterion. Yet, year-after-year the state did not create a plan to deal with this. The present replacement plan to solve this reliability issue by using fossil fuels conflicts with New York state's latest 2040 mandate.

Eric Wood of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said: “Replacing Indian Point with fracked gas power plants only increases New York’s greenhouse emissions, further exacerbates the climate crisis and completely contradicts Governor Cuomo’s goals of producing 100 percent 'carbon free' energy by 2040. We need to zone out fossil fuel power plants and expedite the production of renewable energy now.”

Many people are unaware that the Jan. 9, 2017, Indian Point Closure Agreement provides for a four-year delay if there are sudden energy delivery issues. With exploding transformers in Astoria, Queens, new management of the Buchanan decommissioning process, a gas moratorium in Westchester until 2023, over-aged power plants in New York City that might fail at any moment, and dangerous increases in greenhouse gas releases, that delay clause in the Closure Agreement may prove critical.

Under the Closure Agreement, Indian Point Unit 2 would cease electric production as early as April 2020 and Unit 3 in April 2021. However, an emergency provision could give Entergy an additional four years of service in the event of war, a sudden increase in electrical demand or a sudden shortage of electric energy. Entergy officials have said that scenario is unlikely, however they are now plan to sell the nuclear site.

"The sale of Indian Point to Holtec (International) is expected to result in the completion of decommissioning decades sooner than if the site were to remain under Entergy’s ownership,” said Entergy Chairman and Chief Executive Leo Denault. “With its deep experience and technological innovations, Holtec’s ability to decommission Indian Point will benefit stakeholders in the surrounding community.”

The social cost of carbon from the Indian Point closure would total about $500 million dollars per year, well in excess of any subsidy needed to keep the plants operating, according to some estimates.

By 2021, more than one-fourth of New York City's fossil fueled power plants will be far over-aged. By 2026, 41 percent will be far over-aged. Closure of Indian Point plus a breakdown of an over-aged fossil fueled plant could lead to an electricity crisis, affecting New York City and the whole state.

Where will Indian Point's replacement power come from when the first closure starts next year? It can't come from upstate New York or Long Island. As the New York Independent Systems Operator (NYISO) has pointed out, severe transmission limitations prevent this. 

Replacement electricity will have to come from the Lower Hudson Valley and New York City. It can't exclusively come from on-shore wind turbines in the Lower Hudson Valley or New York City. To match the Indian Point electricity output would require a land area of about 682 square miles.

New York City is immediately ruled out because it is very expensive, with limited area and a high population density. The combined land areas of Westchester and Putnam counties only come to 660 square miles and are therefore too small, besides being very expensive. Rockland County is far too small with only 174 square miles of land area. 

Dutchess and Orange counties are larger, with land areas of 796 and 812 square miles, respectively. Over 40 percent of these two county's combined land areas would be necessary for land based wind turbines to match the Indian Point output. As it is, these two counties are already burdened with new gas plants under construction to serve areas south of them. And there has been local resistance to proposed new gas plants. The variable output of wind farms further complicates the ability to use this electricity source on a large scale.

Other renewable energy sources can't fully replace Indian Point, either. NYISO's data show that Indian Point operated over 93 percent of the time, averaged over the last 10 years. This exceeds any fossil fueled plant whose operations are restricted by air quality and greenhouse gas limits. 

In New York state, land based wind turbines only produce electricity 26 percent of the time. Solar panels are even worse; in New York they only produce electricity about 15 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, the "world's largest off-shore wind farm" -- off of Long Island -- is not expected to be completed until 2030 -- too late to offset 2020 and 2021 Indian Point 2 and 3 closures. Even if this giant wind farm were operational today it could, at best, only supply about 60 percent of the Indian Point electricity production. Solar energy also is too small, producing about 2 percent of statewide electricity in 2017.

This only leaves burning a fossil fuel, natural gas. However, Gov. Cuomo made a commitment to New Yorkers to only replace Indian Point with "emissions-free" sources when he signed the Closure Agreement in January 2017. Burning this fossil fuel to replace Indian Point would, in just two years, completely wipe out all of the wind power environmental gains made by the state since 2003.

Replacing Indian Point with gas would release about 7 million tons of carbon dioxide each and every year, enough to overcome any planned off-shore wind farm,  helping to worsen global warming.

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