The state has proposed shutting down the Indian Point nuclear plant for up to three months a year to protect fish in the Hudson River.
Indian Point provides 25 percent of New York City’s annual power needs. The shutdown proposed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, described in a document posted on its website, would occur from May 10 to Aug. 10, during the highest period of electric demand. The plan is not final and could be revised, or combined with other plans to lessen Indian Point’s fish kills.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly stated his desire to permanently close Indian Point, located on the banks of the Hudson River in Westchester County, for more than a decade. The state recently approved the restarting of a natural gas-fired power plant in the lower Hudson Valley, the Danskammer Generating Station, that had once been slated for demolition and could replace some of the production lost at Indian Point.
Indian Point produces 2,000 megawatts of power a year, enough for about two million homes; Danskammer would produce 530 megawatts.
The shutdown could cost ratepayers and businesses billions of dollars, said Elise Zoli, an Indian Point attorney. Since nuclear reactors do not emit air pollution, it will also take away a key source of clean energy that would have to be replaced with power producers that cause air emissions, she said.
“I believe any administration that was looking at this dynamic and wanted to know they have a viable power supply for future needs would be sufficiently concerned,” Zoli said. “It would be an unusual goal of an administration committed to global health, particularly after Superstorm Sandy, taking a significant amount of carbon-free power out of the environment.”
In the past, state officials have ruled out shutting down the plant for part of the year because it would have a severe impact on electric reliability and on ratepayers. New York City’s electric demand has been growing for years. During last July’s heat wave, the city set an all-time power demand record.
The plan to shutter Indian Point would primarily protect two fish species, the striped bass and the river herring, neither of which are endangered, Zoli said.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about the wildlife killed by the intake of river water, which includes a wide variety of fish, insects and aquatic animals, used to cool the nuclear reactors. The plant has the capacity to use 2.5 billion gallons—twice the amount New York City uses—of river water a day. Riverkeeper has pushed for the plant to install cooling towers, known as closed-cycle cooling, that would not draw heavily from the river.
The water returned to the plant is warmer than the river, which can kill additional animals. Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Director for Riverkeeper, said Indian Point has been killing a billion fish a year for over 40 years, which is contributing to a long-term decline in fish species in the river.
Entergy, the company that owns Indian Point, fought the closed-cycle cooling towers because they would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said. Now, they face a more harsh cut into their profit base, he said.
“Entergy has gotten themselves into this situation by fighting against closed cycle cooling for over a decade, they’re reaping what they’re sowing,” Musegaas said.
Indian Point is required to get a water quality certificate for the plant as part of its relicensing application. The license for one of the plant’s reactors expired last year and the other is set to expire next year, though it can keep operating during the application phase.
The state will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday in Westchester County.
Business groups, labor unions, manufacturers and area chambers of commerce, sent a letter to the D.E.C. on Wednesday warning that the shutdown would lead to lost jobs, higher electricity prices, significantly lower electric reliability and vast economic uncertainty.
“Closing Indian Point for several months a year, especially in the hottest months when electricity is needed most, sends the very negative message to companies considering relocating to New York or expanding here that the state is hostile to business,” the groups wrote. “This will make it harder for New York to generate jobs and attract out-of-state investments.”
The closure would likely require the construction of more transmission lines as well as additional power plants, which can take years to get state approvals and often face tremendous opposition from those who live near a proposed site.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment. The D.E.C. had no immediate comment.