Earlier this week, there was a leak at the Indian Point nuclear power plant that forced one of its units to shut down temporarily –exacerbating fears about the aging facility located in New York City’s densely populated backyard. Entergy, the plant’s owner reports that no radiation escaped, but incidents like this are not uncommon at Indian Point – and it’s just one of many reasons why NRDC and others are encouraging the region to switch to the available clean energy alternatives we have within our grasp.
Fortunately, the state legislature is taking this very issue up tomorrow morning, when two New York State Assembly Committees are holding a public hearing on energy alternatives to the power produced by the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, New York. Kudos to Assembly Committee Chairmen Kevin Cahill and Jim Brennan for convening this important and timely hearing.
The witnesses who will be testifying at this hearing include NRDC’s and Riverkeeper’s expert on this topic, Tim Woolf of Synapse Energy Economics, who has thirty years of experience in the energy arena. Tim will be sharing information from one of two important reports that NRDC released in November that clarify the key issues surrounding the plant.
In short, these reports showed:
- The cost and scale of a disaster at Indian Point would be far greater than the tragic incident in Japan at Fukushima (and it doesn’t take an earthquake or tsunami to trigger one).
- We have a wealth of safer alternatives available to power the region if Indian Point is closed.
The first report, prepared by my colleague Dr. Matthew McKinzie, concludes that among the 104 operating nuclear reactors in America, Indian Point poses heightened health, safety, and financial risks to millions of people living nearby.
It reveals that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) still underestimates the danger posed to Indian Point from seismic activity. An accident at one of Indian Point’s reactors on the scale of the recent catastrophe in Japan could send a fallout plume south to the New York City metropolitan area, require the sheltering or evacuation of millions of people, and cost ten to 100 times more than Fukushima’s disaster. Shockingly, the estimated cost alone for cleanup and compensation for the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plants is at about $60 billion and counting. The costs of a severe accident at Indian Point would be significantly higher here because of the value of real estate and economic activity that would be lost in its wake.
And, perhaps surprisingly to many people, it wouldn’t take an earthquake or tsunami to trigger an accident like Japan’s. Flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, and terrorist incidents– none of which can be ruled out in our region – also pose serious threats.
The second report, prepared by Tim Woolf for NRDC and Riverkeeper, is especially relevant to the topic for tomorrow’s hearing: given these risks, what are the energy alternatives to Indian Point? That report found that we don’t need Indian Point to power our region—we have a cushion of surplus electricity capacity at the moment and enormous potential to develop greater energy efficiency and renewable energy resources and other cleaner alternatives on a time frame that will allow us to replace Indian Point when its licenses expire.
Assembling the right, diverse portfolio of energy supply resources from among the many options available will result in safer, cleaner, more sustainable energy resources that benefit both New York’s economy and our environment.
Using very conservative estimates, our report shows that increased efficiency and renewable projects alone could provide enough capacity to replace Indian Point with a safe and reliable electricity supply.
Indian Point has the capacity to generate 2,000 MW of electricity. This can be replaced by a host of alternatives:
- Energy efficiency resources beyond those now planned—already the cheapest, fastest, cleanest energy solutions—could provide as much as 1,550 MW of capacity savings in New York City and the Indian Point region.
- Roughly 6,000 MW of new renewable energy projects are also already under development—for reliability planning purposes, we can conservatively count on about 600 MW of these projects to replace Indian Point by 2020. And we can do even better on renewables if we invest in solar power and offshore wind facilities.
- The Synapse report also describes other energy alternatives for serious consideration. One of these is upgrading existing older power plants in the city to make them more efficient. Doing so will reduce air emissions, reduce the need for natural gas, increase the capacity of existing plants, and produce another 1,000 MW of energy capacity.
- We can also invest in major new transmission lines that would bring power to New York City from other regions. Currently, there are 8,000 MW of new transmission lines proposed for New York City and other regions near Indian Point. At least two of these projects will bring power to New York City from other states or regions, and are already approved or moving through the approval process.
None of this is “pie in the sky.” In fact, Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech last week included a number of practical, concrete energy proposals of the kind that will allow New York State to replace Indian Point – while also creating jobs and growing a green economy in the Empire State. Many of these track the recommendations in our report, including energy efficiency retrofits for public buildings, a short-term solar power initiative, repowering of existing power plants, and the creation of an “energy highway” to transmit renewable energy from the north down to New York City. There’s much more to do – including passing an important piece of solar energy legislation that will really scale up solar power in New York State, but these proposals put us a on the right track.
The tragedy in Fukushima alerted New Yorkers to the dangers of living near a nuclear plant underprepared to deal with natural or man-made disasters, small or large. When you weigh the range of possible human and economic costs that could result from such a tragic event, the need to replace Indian Point’s power is self-evident and the replacement power costs modest. As NRDC’s President Frances Beinecke asked in November, “Why should we put the health and safety of millions of people at risk when we don’t need to?”
Replacing Indian Point’s power with cleaner, safer energy alternatives isn’t rocket science. It just requires a policy commitment to tried and true energy-saving and renewable energy technologies that will help save consumers money, create green jobs and eliminate the risks of Indian Point.
And we’re already on our way.