Life Without Indian Point?

January 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Westchester Guardian

Jan.19, 2012  pgs. 10-11

     Life without Indian Point?

By Abby Luby

New York City – – In a          landmark public hearing last Thursday, state lawmakers listened to testimony on the potential effects of closing down the Indian Point nuclear power plants just 24 miles north of the city. In a public hearing that lasted most of the day here in lower Manhattan, the New York State Assembly Committee on Energy heard from regulatory and utility brass who support the continued operation of the twin reactors in Buchanan and from experts who want to shutter the 40 year old twin reactors.

The hearing room was filled to capacity. More than 16 Assembly members sat on the panel led by Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill, Chairman of the Committee on Energy, and Assemblyman James F. Brennan. Testimony, which was by invitation only, was heard from the New York Independent System Operators (NYISO), Con Ed, New York Public Service Commission, Synapse, an energy consulting firm, Indian Point owner Entergy and others. Environmental groups such as Clearwater and Riverkeeper were not invited to speak, but the panel encouraged the groups and the public to submit written testimony.

Would closing Indian Point impact the state’s economy and electrical system? And how can we tap into the surplus electricity being generated by facilities in upstate New York, electricity that could replace Indian Point’s output?

Prohibiting the flow of needed electricity to the southern part of New York and to New York City is known as “transmission congestion.”

“The last transmission upgrade was in 1987,” Brennan told NYISO Chief Operating Officer, Rick Gonzalez. “We’ve been talking about upgrades for decades. Why is it taking so long?”

“This issue is the cost allocations,” said Gonzalez. “Who will pay for the upgrades?” Gonzalez said NYISO used a model study that looked at a generic solution to congestion where the cost ratio benefits were greater than one. “In general, the beneficiaries [rate payers] would have to pay for the upgrade.”

NYISO oversees and operates New York’s electricity grid and plans for future energy needs of the state. Brennan pressed Gonzalez on how to get power downstate.

“What could we do more quickly to lessen transmission congestion?”  Gonzalez mentioned a few programs NYISO was considering to augment the existing transmission system. “It would get us 300 megawatts,” he said.

At times panel members seemed to bartering for more electricity to replace the 2000 megawatts produced by Indian Point.

Of the current projects geared to bring additional power to New York City, some are already have the green light, others are in the approval process. The already approved Hudson Transmission Line is expected to bring 660 megawatts from New Jersey to Manhattan. The completion date is 2013. Pending is the Cross Hudson Line which will offer 800 megawatts from New Jersey to Manhattan. Other pending proposals to build 1000 megawatt transmission lines from upstate New York or Canada include the Champlain Hudson Cable, New York Power Pathway, and the West Point Transmission Line.

Gonzalez warned that replacement resources must be in place before closing Indian Point. “Failure to do that will have serious reliability consequences and an increase in rolling blackouts.”

Verbal sparring about the reliability of electricity produced by Indian Point to the plant’s safety reliability was initiated by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee from Rockland. Jaffee intoned a history of accidental shutdowns at Indian Point, including the most recent shutdown last Monday from a broken pump seal at Unit 2.

“Given an aging plant and its shutdowns, how can you suggest that Indian Point is a reliable source of energy?” asked Jaffee, who received a round of applause.

“My reliability statement is focused on grid reliability, not the reliability of the plant,” said Gonzalez.

Jaffee referred to the disaster last year at the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, where a major earthquake and tsunami caused the destruction of four plants resulting in a core meltdown and the large release of radiation. “I question whether Indian Point is reliable or safe, especially in light of what happened in Japan,” she said.

Gonzalez was questioned for over an hour, a terse exchange at times only to be ironically interrupted by the lights going out for no apparent reason, garnering a moment of humor in the proceedings.

Activists made their voice heard during a break and chanted the benefits of closing Indian Point. Lead by Luna Scarano, an activist from the Occupy Wall Street environmental group, numerous anti nuclear activists echoed Scarano’s shouted words admonishing the plant for threatening the lives of 20 million people who wouldn’t be able to evacuate in case of an serious accident at Indian Point.

Indian Point 2 produces 1,028 megawatts of electricity and Indian Point 3 produces 1,041 megawatts. Currently Con Edison, who purchases 350 megawatts of electricity from Entergy, transmits between a total of 9,000 and 13,000 megawatts of electricity to New York City and Westchester during daily peak periods.  Joseph Oates, Con Edison’s vice president of energy management told the panel that on the hottest summer day, if the plant wasn’t producing electricity, there would be 1000 megawatt shortfall. Cahill asked Oates how they would replace the power if the state closed down the plant.

“We have not made any firm plans if the state decides that. There’s been no official announcement of a plant shut down – that process hasn’t been triggered,” Oates answered.

“What if Indian Point has to construct cooling towers and the plant has to close? Is Con Ed prepared for that contingency?” asked Cahill.

“We are preparing generic types of solutions. If a situation of retrofitting required support, our recommendation would be to shut only one plant at a time to satisfy needs in the short term.”

Breenan asked Oates about electricity produced by the gas powered, cogenerated plant in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and if it could make up the lost power from a retired Indian Point.

“Could taking power from a co-generated market in the future be a potentially economical purchase?”

Oates agreed.  “Co-generation is a more efficient use of the fuel because we are using it twice.  We are open to good ideas, especially ones that will minimize the cost for the customer.”

Both operating licenses for units 2 and 3 at Indian Point will expire in 2013 and 2015. Entergy applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2007 to renew their licenses, but their application has met much resistance from Governor Andrew Cuomo and environmental groups Riverkeeper and Clearwater. Since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima last March, the anti-nuclear movement has rallied with concerns about safe evacuation, Hudson River fish-kill by thermal pollution and the precarious location of the plant on a seismic fault.

It is unknown at this time how the Assembly Energy committee will use the information from the public hearing. The committee has the power to enact legislation and amend energy law and policies that impact energy availability and Public Service Law.


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