Wind Power Saves New Yorkers Money on Electricity After Unexpected Shutdown of Indian Point Nuclear Unit

New York State wind power projects like this one took up the slack, and saved consumers money on energy costs, after one unit of Westchester's Indian Point nuclear power plant unexpectedly went offline this week.
Credit: Michael Swan, via Flickr

Wind power came to the rescue of New York's electricity consumers this week, as a unit at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County unexpectedly went off-line on Monday evening, due to an electrical disturbance. As reported by Bloomberg in an article titled "Wind Rescues New York Power After Nuclear Plant Shutdown," the last time this happened, in September, the average spot price of electricity in New York City tripled over the course of three days. But on Tuesday, things went differently: According to Bloomberg, "wind turbines in the state came to the rescue, running close to capacity and compensating for the loss of the reactor." (Two natural gas plants also increased production.) As a result, spot wholesale electricity prices on Tuesday actually fell by more than 50 percent, saving consumers money on the supply portion of their electric bills.


New York's ever-increasing supply of clean wind power is the result of the state's renewable energy standard, assisted by federal tax incentives that help level the playing field for clean energy. Thankfully, in its new omnibus bill, Congress has extended the federal wind power incentive, and other clean energy incentives, with funding for wind power at current levels for this year and next, and 80 percent of the current incentive in 2017, 60 percent in 2018, and 40 percent through the end of 2019.

Happily, we can expect more land-based wind, solar power and even offshore wind power in our future, now that Governor Cuomo has directed the state's Public Service Commission, which oversees the state's utilities, to design and enact a new Clean Energy Standard. It will ensure New York gets a full 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, like land-based wind, solar power and offshore wind power, by 2030, up from about 25 percent now.

Nuclear power plants are often said to be more reliable than renewable sources of energy. But as this week's incident and other recent, unplanned outages at Indian Point demonstrate, nuclear power plants, like fossil fuel plants, do experience unplanned outages. In fact, this week, as the Bloomberg piece notes, Governor Cuomo called on the Public Service Commission to investigate these recent outages, noting that they may result in increased inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Like the governor, NRDC opposes the re-licensing of Indian Point because of the potential for an accident that could impact public health; an analysis conducted by NRDC and Riverkeeper shows that energy efficiency and renewable energy resources can replace the power provided by Indian Point.

In fact, the question of intermittency is not a black and white one, whatever foes of renewable energy suggest. As Tuesday's events showed, New York's ambitious clean energy goals can help to bring resilience to our electric grid and reduce wholesale electricity prices.




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