Gov Delivers: Indian Point to Close, Clean Energy Advances

Kicking off 2017 with major news, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that the troubled and aging Indian Point nuclear power plant, located 24 miles north of New York City, will be shuttered by April 2021 under a negotiated agreement with Entergy, the facility’s owner. New York’s plans to replace electricity generation from the two reactors will focus on clean, renewable energy with no net increase in carbon emissions, according to the governor. 

Governor Cuomo's announcement today that the Indian Point nuclear power station will shut down permanently by 2021, without an increase in carbon emissions, is great news for New Yorkers and our climate.

Tony Fischer via Flickr

Governor Cuomo’s announcement is welcome news for the nearly 20 million people living within 50 miles of Indian Point. NRDC has long opposed relicensing its two reactors because of Indian Point’s history of operational, safety, and environmental problems, as well as the grave risk of a nuclear accident so close to the nation’s largest city. Fortunately, the Cuomo administration’s groundbreaking clean energy policies will help ease the transition to safer alternatives that won’t increase carbon emissions—namely energy efficiency, land-based and offshore wind power, and solar power. In the coming months and years, NRDC will work to ensure that Indian Point’s power is replaced with the best mix of clean energy possible. In this blog, we’ll tackle some of the key questions about the Indian Point agreement.

What Are the Key Elements of the Agreement?

The agreement provides that Indian Point Unit 2 will close down no later than April 30, 2020, and Indian Point Unit 3 will close down no later than April 30, 2021. Two extensions for each reactor—with each extension limited to two years—are available if New York State determines that an emergency exists because of war, terrorism, a sudden increase in the demand for electric energy, or a sudden shortage of electric energy or of facilities for the generation or transmission of electric energy.  The agreement also includes a number of safety-related provisions, including requirements for periodic inspections and replacements of the bolts at both units and provisions to do more to move the spent nuclear waste from wet pool to safer dry cask storage. In addition, it requires Entergy to establish a $15 million fund to support projects that will protect the Hudson River and its surrounding ecosystems, and to address other environmental and community needs.

Separately, Entergy issued a statement that included its commitment to treating its approximately 1,000 Indian Point “employees fairly and will help those interested in other opportunities to relocate within the Entergy system.”

What Are the Risks of Indian Point?

Indian Point, located in the most densely populated part of our country, presents a unique set of risks. For decades, we’ve heard about too many troubling incidents including a May 2015 transformer fire, radioactive releases, failed accident drills, and inadequate disaster planning. The power plant’s two operating units lie within a mile of a significant seismic zone discovered after the plant was built in the 1960s, causing the NRC to find that Indian Point is one of the top ten facilities considered most in need of reevaluation for earthquake vulnerability. And one of the 9/11 bombers talked of how he considered the plant a potential target. Because of Indian Point’s proximity to New York City and the rest of the densely populated tri-state area, the impacts of an accident could be severe (even though the chances are low). My colleague Dr. Matthew McKinzie, director of NRDC’s nuclear program, provides more details here.

Can Indian Point’s Power Be Replaced Reliably With Clean Energy Resources and at Low Cost?

With three years to go until Indian Point Unit 2 is closed and four years until Unit 3 retires, New York can reliably replace the generation from the Indian Point Energy Center’s two reactors, focusing on energy efficiency, on and offshore wind, and solar power. Transmission upgrades and new lines also present other replacement options.

At the outset, the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO)—which is charged with ensuring the reliability of New York’s electric grid and running our wholesale electricity markets—predicts that electricity consumption in New York State will flatten or even decline over the next decade. That’s largely because of federal, state, and City energy efficiency efforts, including stronger building energy codes and appliance and equipment standards. While peak electricity demand (the amount of power that we use on the hottest days) is expected to continue to grow, the rate of growth will be lower, thanks again to the state’s clean energy initiatives. And as noted below, the state Public Service Commission has been planning for the facility’s retirement and replacement power needs for some time, and has already begun putting additional resources in place to keep a reliable electricity flow even without Indian Point. All this means that it is much easier to retire Indian Point today than it might have been a decade ago.

But Doesn’t Indian Point Supply 25 Percent of New York City and Westchester’s Power?

Yes, that’s true but here’s the larger context. Indian Point provides just over 2000 megawatts (MW) of electricity capacity. (Capacity, measured in megawatts, measures a power plant’s maximum capability to generate a certain amount of power in a given moment in time; electricity, measured in megawatt hours, measures how much energy it actually produces.) This equates to roughly one-sixth of Con Ed’s roughly 13,000 megawatt-hour (MWh) peak demand for its customers in Westchester and NYC. In 2015, Indian Point generated 16,421 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity; Con Ed’s annual electricity load was just over 57,000 GWh. Statewide, New York used 161,572 GWh of electricity. So while Indian Point generated power equivalent to 25 percent of New York City’s electricity load, it is only 10 percent of the state’s load. 

Today, because of current limits on the state’s electricity transmission system, downstate/New York City often functions as an island for purposes of electric supply and demand, meaning that it’s hard to get electricity from other parts of the state and region to the City. However, with smartly sited and implemented transmission projects, New York is working to break that logjam and open up the transmission system so that we can get much more upstate renewable and zero carbon energy to the downstate area where so much electricity is used.  

Once we build on the significant transmission upgrades which the Public Service Commission has already approved, and new transmission lines which the Commission will be approving soon as part of its “Energy Highway” initiative, New York will be able to bring in much more electricity from both Western and Central New York and from Canada to the New York City region by the 2020/2021 timeframe. Bottom line: with transmission upgrades in place, Indian Point’s electricity capacity should be measured against statewide electric demand. By that measure, Indian Point provides barely 10 percent of statewide electricity supply—an eminently manageable amount of power to be replaced by clean energy and low-carbon resources by 2021.

Won’t Replacing Indian Point Mean More Carbon Pollution for New York State?

No. As highlighted in today’s announcement, the governor has committed that New York’s: “leadership on energy and climate change will ensure that Indian Point’s closure will not have an adverse impact on carbon emissions at the regional level. Through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the state will continue to drive reductions in greenhouse gases across the power sector. Further, the Governor’s Clean Energy Standard to get 50 percent of New York’s electricity from renewables by 2030 is the most comprehensive and ambitious mandate in the state’s history to fight climate change, reduce harmful air pollution, and ensure a diverse and reliable energy supply at affordable prices.”

Fortunately as a result of that leadership, there are a range of clean energy programs and policies that New York can tap into to replace Indian Point without increasing carbon and other forms of air pollution. Below are just a few of the options. It’s merely a matter of execution.

Starting in 2012, the Public Service Commission has approved a number of measures to start the process of replacing Indian Point’s power. This has already led to the implementation of nearly 150 MW of demand side resources (e.g. energy efficiency, demand response programs and on-site generation in the Con Edison service territory) that could quickly be scaled up further. Transmission upgrades that will provide hundreds of megawatts of additional power have also been approved. Other clean energy and low-carbon replacement power options include:

  • The fully permitted and approved 1,000 MW TDI Hudson Champlain transmission project, which would bring low-carbon hydropower from Quebec to New York City, could also play a significant role in replacing Indian Point’s power and could be in service by the time Indian Point closes.
  • There are already hundreds of megawatts of demand response (DR) resources (programs that compensate customers for agreeing to cut their electricity use when called upon during high use periods) enrolled in the NYISO’s wholesale programs (which are in addition to the retail DR programs approved by the Commission); depending on price signals and program designs at the NYISO, that number could significantly increase between now and 2020/2021.
  • Con Ed has been operating its own successful retail demand response program for over ten years, and as part of New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, all the state’s utilities now offer retail demand response programs to their customers. These could be ramped up as necessary to help with any replacement portfolio.
  • New York’s groundbreaking NY-Sun solar power program was launched in 2013, and will continue to scale up behind the meter solar projects at homes and businesses across the state (including in Con Ed’s service territory). By 2023 (if not sooner) we estimate it will lead to over 3,000 MW of solar PV statewide.
  • Established last August by the Commission, the “50x30” renewables program will double the state’s supply of renewable energy resources like wind and solar power by 2030. Near-term annual targets for how much renewable energy utilities must procure should be increased so that this program drives as much renewable energy development as possible by the Indian Point 2020 and 2021 retirement dates.
  • Similar actions are being taken to move offshore wind forward in the waters off New York State. The Long Island Power Authority is expected to approve a 90 MW offshore wind project 30 miles northeast of Montauk this month. Offshore wind areas located east of Montauk, south of the Rockaways, and off the coasts of other states in the region that could produce 2,000 MW of electricity have already been leased to private developers.
  • New York State can also reinvigorate its energy efficiency market and ramp up to at least 2 percent annual energy savings levels by 2020—thereby tapping the least-cost resource on the system. Current levels of energy efficiency savings in New York State should be increased to cost-effective levels that are being demonstrated in other energy efficiency leadership states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and California.
  • New York City will also play a pivotal role in ramping up clean energy replacement options. It has already adopted a number of policies to scale up solar—including through easing regulatory obstacles, assistance with collective solar purchasing, etc. (with a goal of 1,000 MW of solar power by 2030). Over the last three years, solar installations in New York City have quadrupled. And on energy efficiency, the City’s leadership role will continue to be critical, as well—with policies building off of its Greener, Greater Buildings Plan to continue to reduce energy demand. In addition, New York City has also adopted a goal of 100 MWh of energy storage by 2020.
  • Finally, as another guardrail against regional carbon pollution increases, New York’s leadership in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that caps and cuts carbon from the power sector while ramping up renewables and efficiency will also play a key role in maximizing clean energy in the replacement portfolio. Importantly, in the modeling to chart a post-2020 cap trajectory for the program currently underway, New York has already built in an assumption that both units retire in 2019—so the projected impacts of this development on carbon allowance prices, etc., are already baked in. Governor Cuomo is expected to play a leading role in driving a strong post-2020 RGGI outcome in the ongoing program review.

Conclusion

Few dispute that Indian Point was sited in the wrong place some 50 years ago—in a location where a severe accident could impact the health of millions of people and where no large scale evacuation plan could realistically work. Governor Cuomo has worked hard for over a decade with other New York officials to make the possibility of shutting down Indian Point a reality. He deserves tremendous credit for his vision and tenacious pursuit of a goal that many dismissed as unachievable. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has led the charge in opposing the relicensing of Indian Point in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceeding and in other related litigation. And much credit and thanks go to our colleagues at Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson, who have been NRDC’s valued allies and determined partners on Indian Point, Hudson River, and clean energy issues for decades. Clearwater and many other local and national groups have also played key role on these issues over the years. Just as California is working to move forward with an orderly transition to replace its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant with  safe, clean, and renewable energy, New York is putting in place a plan to ensure reliable electricity service without more pollution. Onward!

About the Authors

Jackson Morris

Director, Eastern Energy Project

Kit Kennedy

Director, Energy & Transportation program

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