Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an “Energy Highway” in his 2012 State of the State address, his administration has downplayed the initiative’s potential for paving the way for closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
But with the governor’s New York Energy Highway picking up speed in recent months, it’s become clear that the possible closure of Indian Point is a major factor in the governor’s attempt to upgrade the state’s aging transmission system.
One proposal in the Energy Highway “blueprint” released last October is to develop contingency plans for large power plants that may have to retire—but the only plant mentioned is Indian Point, a facility the governor has long wanted to shutter.
The blueprint also lists 20 entities that submitted proposals that could provide replacement power in the downstate region, showing “that the private sector is positioned to support” a contingency plan for Indian Point. Environmentalists seized on it as evidence that the facility’s two nuclear reactors could be closed without diminishing reliability.
In November the state’s Public Service Commission launched proceedings for three key items from the blueprint: easing transmission congestion, expanding natural gas delivery and figuring out how to replace Indian Point. The contingency plan is due Feb. 1.
Gavin Donohue, the president and CEO of the Independent Power Producers of New York, said the New York Energy Highway has “jelled so far” with Cuomo’s opposition to Indian Point.
“I mean, he has a proceeding to deal with just the contingency plan if Indian Point is not relicensed,” said Donohue, who favors keeping the plant open. “So while it’s easy to say, ‘I have to plan in case it doesn’t get relicensed’—I understand the planning aspect of it, and I don’t think anybody blames the state for being prepared—but clearly closure of Indian Point has been a threshold issue of this governor for a long time.”
Of course, the Energy Highway Task Force has no role in whether the plant is renewed, and says its only goal when it comes to Indian Point is ensuring reliability. When Cuomo was briefed on the blueprint, he emphasized that the plan was separate from his desire to close Indian Point.
“They’re two separate things,” Cuomo said in an October cabinet meeting. “If—and I do believe it should be closed—if Indian Point is closed, you would need to find power to substitute for Indian Point. That’s true. And that’s always been true. But Indian Point or no Indian Point, the state still needs an Energy Highway, and still needed the improvements that we’re talking about today. So they’re separate concepts, and I guess you would say they’re tangentially related.”
Even some Indian Point supporters, including the facility’s owner, Entergy, agreed that there is no definite link between the Energy Highway and the governor’s opposition to the nuclear power plant.
Jerry Kremer, the chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, described the initiative as a serious attempt to develop a long-range energy policy that is sorely needed in the state.
“There’s nobody today who can pinpoint legitimately the 2,000-plus megawatts to replace Indian Point by the time the relicensing comes up,” Kremer said. “The answer is there’s nothing there to replace Indian Point, so I don’t view the Energy Highway as a Trojan horse to replace Indian Point. I think it’s smart long-range planning for the state’s energy future.”
Indian Point, which is located within 35 miles of New York City, is a major energy producer, is more reliable than most power plants and produces minimal emissions, supporters note. Opponents worry about the risk of a meltdown, no matter how unlikely, especially due to its proximity to the most heavily populated region in the country.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is widely expected to renew the licenses for the reactors, which expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Final approval could take years, with the current licenses extended until a decision is made. Yet the state has not accepted an application for water-use permits at the facility, which could eventually force the plant to pay for costly upgrades or close.
“Ultimately the government’s not going to decide what to do with Indian Point,” Assemblyman Kevin Cahill said. “The Nuclear Regulatory Authority will give Indian Point its license. They have never denied a nuclear power plant a license.”
Entergy will have to decide for itself whether it is worth it to spend the money to comply with the state’s strict water quality standards, said Cahill, who until this year chaired the Assembly Energy Committee.
“It’s not in our hands,” he said. “We have an obligation as a government to prepare for any eventuality there and to make us not susceptible to one company’s decision about whether they’re going to pull the plug.”
If Entergy does pull the plug, plenty of rival energy companies are eager to replace Indian Point through the Energy Highway process.
NRG Energy has already been approved to repower a plant in Queens that would add 440 megawatts, though it would need a long-term contract to secure funding. Late last year the company merged with GenOn, and the combined company has two other repowering projects whose proximity to Indian Point could position them for a boost from the state.
One is the site of a demolished coal-fired facility across the Hudson River from Indian Point. The second site is located about four miles from Indian Point in Haverstraw. NRG is looking at repowering—adding new capacity or building an entirely new plant on an existing site—at both locations.
“You know, the proximity of both facilities to Indian Point makes this helpful to the state,” said Lee Davis, a senior vice president with NRG who expects the governor to support some combination of transmission projects and new generation. “It’s no secret that Cuomo is interested in seeing Indian Point shut down at some point. We are agnostic on that, to be honest with you. We have no problems with Entergy ourselves. But if the governor wishes to follow through on that … there’s not one solution that’s going to be the solution to replace Indian Point.”
Tags: blueprint, Bowline, Energy Highway, Entergy, Gavin Donohue, Independent Power Producers of New York, Indian Point, Jerry Kremer, Kevin Cahill, Lee Davis, Lovett, New York Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance, NRG, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Public Service Commission