Gov. Cuomo shut down Indian Point nuclear reactor, now the electricity it produced will come from fossil fuels

Indian Point nuclear reactor is located on the Hudson River 36 miles from New York City. The site, which is made up of two reactors, began producing power in the mid-1970s and had a 40 year operating license. It generated about 5% of the state’s total electricity needs or 25% of what New York City uses. So as its license was nearing expiration, the company sought a 20-year extension. That extension likely would have been approved but environmentalists, led by Gov. Cuomo, stepped in and pushed back. In 2017, Cuomo announced he’d reached a deal to shut it down permanently:

Mr. Cuomo announced on Monday that the state had reached an agreement with the plant’s operator, Entergy, to shut it down by April 2021. He minimized the effects the closure would have on the power grid, electric bills, workers and the regional economy.

In his State of the State address in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo characterized the deal as a hard bargain he had driven to rid the region of a “ticking time bomb” less than 30 miles from Midtown. He said the state would bear no costs in the shutdown or decommissioning of the plant’s two operating nuclear reactors.

“I have personally been trying to close it down for 15 years,” said Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat. He added that the proposed closing “eliminates a major risk, provides welcome relief, and New Yorkers can sleep a little better.”

The President of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, the company that owns and operates the site, said it spent $200 million fighting the state to get the renewals approved but in the end they gave in, partly because electricity produced from natural gas generators had become so cheap that nuclear was less competitive. But even four years ago there were concerns about how the state would replace the energy it was losing at Indian Point. Gov. Cuomo promised at the time that it would be replaced by renewable sources.

Jump forward four years and the last reactor at Indian Point will be shut down later this month. So where will the energy to power New York City come from? Not from renewable sources it turns out:

So far, most of the electricity produced by the nuclear plant, known as Indian Point, has been replaced by power generated by plants that burn natural gas and emit more pollution. And that trade-off will become more pronounced once Indian Point’s last reactor shuts down on April 30.

“It’s topsy-turvy,” said Isuru Seneviratne, a clean-energy investor who is a member of the steering committee of Nuclear New York, which has lobbied to keep Indian Point running. The pronuclear group calculated that each of Indian Point’s reactors had been producing more power than all of the wind turbines and solar panels in the state combined.

Since 2019, New York has had a goal that 70% of it’s power would come from renewable sources by 2030. But closing Indian Point has already pushed the state in the opposite direction. The amount of power coming from fossil fuels went up last year when one of Indian Point’s two reactors closed:

After one of Indian Point’s two working reactors was permanently shut down last summer, the share of the state’s power that came from gas-fired generators jumped in 2020 to about 40 percent, from about 36 percent in 2019, federal data show. The share of the state’s power from renewable sources increased slightly, to about 30 percent.

“This is one of the greatest strategic blunders in the history of energy in New York,” said Robert Bryce, an author who has been a constant critic of the shutdown. “It’s a catastrophically wrong decision.”

Eventually, plans for a large solar plant and offshore wind farms will provide enough renewable energy to replace the loss of Indian Point, but those won’t be finished for several more years. In the meantime, and especially during the summer when demand peaks, New York is going to burn a lot more natural gas.

A lot of people were understandably freaked out when the Fukushima’s nuclear reactor was damaged by a major earthquake followed by a tsunami. The cooling system for the reactor was damaged and it wound up releasing a lot of radioactivity into the environment. But that sort of incident is really a worst case scenario. There aren’t likely to be any 9.0 earthquakes in New York and if there were the power plant probably wouldn’t be the worst of the destruction. If green energy is the goal, it would have made more sense to keep this plant going for 5-10 more years until there was something to replace it.