Politics

Indian Point is scheduled to close by 2021 – how that actually happens remains unclear

Indian Point nuclear power plant (mandritoiu/Shutterstock)

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month that he had reached a deal to shutter the Indian Point nuclear power plant, a number of local officials expressed shock and dismay at the news.

“Aspects of the governor's proposals may require the Legislature's signoff,” state Sen. Terrence Murphy, whose Hudson Valley district includes the nuclear power plant, said in a statement. “We're concerned by the lack of transparency here. We've heard from every stakeholder except the governor himself.”

Despite local concerns about the lack of input in negotiations with Entergy, Indian Point Energy Center’s owner, the looming loss of a major energy producer, and the elimination of jobs and tax revenues – not to mention the environmental and safety factors involved in shutting down a nuclear facility – it appears that local officials and state lawmakers like Murphy are powerless to reverse the move. The plant is set to close by April 2021.

Amy Paulin, the chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Energy, said the state Legislature in fact has no role in the decision to close the plant. However, lawmakers may be able to use their political clout to influence how the process plays out, and they’re already planning to weigh in with a hearing on Feb. 28 to discuss the closure.

“We’re planning on having a hearing for the purposes of learning more ourselves about what exactly transpired and what we can anticipate, because the decommissioning of a nuclear plant does take a long time, so we don’t know what all the options are out there, what that means for the communities that are most impacted,” she told City & State. “The local communities that gets a lot of the tax benefits (from Entergy), we don’t know exactly all those ramifications, so we’re going to be learning ourselves about what to expect over the next 60 years of decommissioning Indian Point.”

State Sen. Joe Griffo, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee who will participate in the hearing on Indian Point, offered a similar take on the situation.

“Since the recent announcement of an agreement to close Indian Point within a relatively short period of time, we have also been looking closely at what impacts this decision will have on both the state and local level,” Griffo said in a statement.

For the past 15 years, Cuomo has sought to close Indian Point. Ever since his run for governor in 2002, he has voiced safety concerns about the plant, especially given its short distance – roughly 35 miles – from New York City. Cuomo will finally be able to check that goal off his list.

“We knew (Indian Point) was eventually going to have to shut down, but the way they go about it is just completely unacceptable.” – state Sen. Terrence Murphy

In 2007, Entergy began the process to renew its license, which needed approval by both the state and federal government. In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied the plant a water quality certificate and stated it wanted Entergy to install a closed loop cooling system, which could cost up to $2 billion. Entergy had already announced the closure of several nuclear plants around the country and faced growing government pressure and rising costs to continue operating Indian Point.

Plus, New York is moving toward renewable energy and investing in major projects, such as a 90-megawatt offshore wind project to be located 30 miles southeast of Montauk. Cuomo is not opposed to nuclear power in general, as he successfully fought against Entergy’s desire to close the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant.

Murphy told City & State that he urged Griffo to have the hearing on Indian Point’s closure and remains concerned about the impact the closure will have on his community. Murphy represents a district that includes parts of Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties.

“It’s a really big deal down here,” he said. “If you’re going to play with people’s lives, shame on you, because you want to have your carbon emissions reduced by 2030 and this is a part of your plan. I get it. I’m OK with that and as chairwoman of the energy committee, (Paulin) should be okay with that and as chairman of the energy committee, Sen. Griffo, he should OK with that along with the governor – but have a plan and let people know what that plan is.”

Murphy expressed concerns about the elimination of 1,200 jobs at the plant, the loss of tax revenue from Entergy – including $24 million for the Hendrick Hudson Central School District – and how the state will protect the leftover spent fuel rods.

“The ripple effects of this affects so many different players and we just have to be a part of the conversation,” he said. “I’m hoping this wasn’t a deal that was done behind closed doors, but nobody knew anything about this – nobody. Nothing at all. We’re all concerned about safety. We knew this was eventually going to have to shut down, but the way they go about it is just completely unacceptable.”

Cuomo confirmed the plant’s closure in a press release as he was rolling out his State of the State priorities in January. In the release, Cuomo said that the agreement includes provisions for Entergy to continue paying taxes to local government entities and school districts until 2021 and that there will be “continued employment” at the plant until 2021, but offered few details beyond that.

“We’re all concerned about the environment and safety,” Murphy said, “but at the end of the day, not at the cost of 1,200 jobs, not at the cost of not letting people know what’s going on, not at the cost of having shaken up people’s lives and putting the fear of God into them about, ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to have a job tomorrow.’”

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