NYT’s bias is showing on Indian Point

Indian Point will remain a center of controversy as long as it operates. The question is: how long will that be?

Indian Point will remain a center of controversy as long as it operates. The question is: how long will that be?

Today, the New York Times ran an article by longtime nuclear power reporter Matthew Wald titled Hearings on Water Permits for Indian Point.

NIRS’ Executive Director Tim Judson found a lot to critique in this article, which bends over backwards to less-than subtly support Entergy’s position on Indian Point. The entire article, with Tim’s comments in brackets, italicized in green, is posted below. Further down, you’ll find a brief report on the substance of the issues raised at the hearing.

Matt, your bias is showing… 

CORTLANDT, N.Y. — A giant power plant that kills tiny fish eggs is leading engineers, government officials, politicians and advocates of all stripes into a fourth year of debate about which side represents concern for the environment, and whether the fish are actually the issue.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation opened hearings on Tuesday on renewing water quality permits for the Indian Point nuclear reactors and possibly shutting them down for two or three hot-weather months during the Hudson River’s peak fish migration [spawning] season, as an alternative to building two cooling towers. No decision will come for at least another two years “at the very earliest,” according to the department.

The idea is ostensibly to reduce the number of small aquatic organisms that are parboiled when they are sucked through its cooling water intake system, or killed when they hit the intake screens. [Actually, it’s explicitly the purpose, not “ostensibly.”]

Riverkeeper, a group focused on the Hudson, asserts that the plants have killed a billion fish a year for the last 40 years which it characterizes as a “severe” impact. [Why the quotes, Matt? Riverkeeper’s “assertion” is not a questionable statement. This is what the science shows, and Entergy is engaged in its own version of “climate change denial” here to the extent that it disagrees with that “assertion.”]

The department is seeking to force the plant, owned by Entergy, to get the water permits as part of its license renewal, and favors cooling towers as the “best technology available.” [No, Matt–the plant is required by law to have water permits in order for the privilege of using the public’s water resource, for which it must comply with environmental regulations Indian Point is plainly violating.]

Plant executives maintain that they have a valid permit [Why no quotes here, Matt?], but are proposing a new water intake system in the river, which would reduce fish kills and cost a small fraction of the price of cooling towers, which could cost more than a billion dollars and are opposed by local officials [Care to be more specific here? Plenty of local officials also support the DEC’s position, and yet others support closing the plant altogether]. Supporters also questioned the degree to which the destroyed eggs affect the fish population.

“Yes, some fish eggs are killed,” John Kelly, a retired Indian Point manager, said. “Ninety-five percent of fish eggs are killed anyway and become food for other fish.” [Can you possibly consider this a credible statement? Yes, fish produce large numbers of eggs because of the natural mortality rate. So now, because of Indian Point, the fish population has to survive on 5% of a billion less eggs/progeny.]

If the plant is closed, he said, other plants will run more, also cooled by Hudson River water. Fish populations are healthy, he said. [Seriously – no quotes here, either? But really, this statement is not even worth printing.]

But Manna Jo Greene, the environmental director of the Hudson Sloop Clearwater, said that the plant, in northwestern Westchester County, killed 1.2 billion fish annually, and that the idea of a summer shutdown was inadequate. “We need winter, spring and summer outages,” she said at the hearing.

Supporters of the plant [You mean, Entergy did, via its front groups] brought in a bus filled with people who said Indian Point’s operation was crucial to them. Without Indian Point, more gas-fired generators would be built in largely minority neighborhoods, adding to air pollution, said Kirsten John Foy, a spokesman for the National Action Network, which is led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The problem, he said, is “not just the potential impacts on fish but the real impact on people.” [More gas plants already are planned to be built in the NY metro area–regardless of whether Indian Point closes. The Governor’s plan for replacing the reactors involves no such measures, but rather embraces energy efficiency, energy storage, and transmission upgrades to bring in hydro and upstate electricity.]

Others representing labor groups, business groups and minority businesses also testified; one woman said she came from a group opposed to gun violence, which she traced to economic problems.

Outside the hearing room, supporters distributed T-shirts that said “Indian Point Energy Center: We’re Right for New York.” Several people held signs reading “Protect Human Health Too.”

Many of the plant’s opponents, who were outnumbered, sidestepped the theatrics and confined themselves to written comments. Many of the opponents who spoke did not mention fish.

Arthur Kremer, a former New York State assemblyman and the head of a group that backs the plants, called New York AREA, said the discussion was a “subterfuge for closing Indian Point, and not some environmental solution for a particular problem.” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Riverkeeper and Clearwater, another group focused on the river, list numerous reasons for wanting the plants closed, including the threat of a terrorist attack, an earthquake or an accident.

The plants provide about a quarter of the electricity in the New York City area, and their loss would jeopardize grid stability, according to the state’s grid operator. The plants could be replaced, but their continued operation has discouraged potential builders of new power plants or power lines. [So which is it, Matt? Can Indian Point not be closed because you don’t think there are alternatives, or are there no alternatives because Indian Point is sucking up such a huge market share?]

The grid’s pricing system is on a hair trigger to jump in case of shortage, promising higher prices for all users when plants with low operating costs, like Indian Point, are shut, experts say. [But again, NYISO’s 2012 report with NYSERDA as part of the New York State Energy Plan (see especially pages 86-87) concluded that closing Indian Point could be managed without serious problems, and the potential ones that were identified are already being addressed by the Governor’s Indian Point Replacement Contingency Plan.]

The license for one of the plant’s two reactors expired last year, though it can continue to operate under rules established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The reactor is akin to a visitor with an expired visa with an appeal pending with the government for an extension.

The license for the other reactor expires late next year. Both units must continue to meet detailed, stringent operating rules.

The commission has not said whether it would approve a 20-year license extension if it concluded the plant was safe for one, but the standoff with the state over cooling water continues.

A precedent involving the relicensing of another nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee, suggests that the state’s power might be limited. In that case, the Vermont Legislature withheld a permit that the owner–also Entergy–needed for continued operation. [Not really. The VY case was completely separate, and had to do with the court’s finding of legislative intent when the legislature inserted itself into the permitting process. The court affirmed the state’s regulatory authority through the regular permitting process, which was part of why Entergy decided to give up the ship in Vermont and close the reactor. The court also affirmed the Supreme Court precedent that confirms states’ rights to regulate aspects of nuclear power plant operations that are not specifically related to nuclear safety.]

The state said the plant was too old to be efficient. But Entergy sued and won a federal court ruling saying that the Legislature’s concern was not really efficiency but safety, and that under the Atomic Energy Act, safety was solely a federal concern. [OK, so maybe you do know what the VY decision was about–which begs the question of why you don’t seem to understand the difference with the Indian Point case.]

Entergy bought the Indian Point reactors in 2001 from two powerful, well-connected entities: Consolidated Edison and New York State itself, which owned one of the reactors through the Power Authority.

*As for the substance of the issue, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYDEC) proposal to close Indian Point during the height of the fish-killing season (May 10-August 10) every year was presented as a new alternative to Entergy’s far weaker proposal to essentially just put finer screens in its water intake systems. NYDEC already has called for construction of new cooling towers to address the problem, but Entergy doesn’t want to spend that much money on them. But shutting down the reactors during the summer peak electricity generating system would almost certainly be more expensive–especially over accumulated years–than building the cooling towers and likely would make continued operation of the reactors at any time uneconomical.

The NYDEC’s proposal is just the latest step in a growing campaign to close Indian Point permanently for a myriad of legitimate reasons (one Wald failed to mention was the impossibility of evacuating the area around Indian Point, especially in an accident coinciding with or caused by natural disaster a la Hurricane Sandy or earthquake, or even inclement weather like snow or ice storms, which are common in the area). As Tim’s comments note, New York already has prepared a viable energy plan for life without Indian Point–the claims that its shutdown would jeopardize grid stability are without merit if the state’s plan is properly implemented.

Even as far back as 2011, Synapse Energy Economics produced a report for NRDC and Riverkeeper showing that Indian Point is not needed to meet New York’s electricity needs.

And given the state government’s recent support for solar power development in the state–and the rapid growth of solar generally–it is by no means clear that even a significant amount of new natural gas capacity would be needed in New York, nor that all gas projects currently contemplated would be completed.

Michael Mariotte and Tim Judson

July 23, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/07/23/nyts-bias-is-showing-on-indian-point/

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12 thoughts on “NYT’s bias is showing on Indian Point

  1. paxus

    Reblogged this on your passport to complaining and commented:
    The Grey Lady is Lying to you

    On the off chance you thought the NY Times as the last bastion of respectable journalism, i have bad news. The NYT energy reporter Matt Wald, is just a step short for climate disruption denying. Hopefully they will at least print some of the correction from NIRS.

    Reply
  2. John Hughes

    “it is by no means clear that even a significant amount of new natural gas capacity would be needed”

    It doesn’t matter what sort of electric generation would replace it. Even if it was replaced by a plant that burned the dirtiest form of coal, NIRS would be in favor of it, because they don’t care about air quality, climate change, or anything else but their their own personal agenda.

    Reply
    1. eliewestcan

      NIRS, like all of us who oppose nuclear power, is very concerned with climate change. Enough studies have been done to prove that we can make the transition to a green economy without more use of fossil fuels. Uranium, like coal, is an extractive industry and creates misery world wide wherever it is mined. It has to be processed a great deal more than coal and this is a highly energy intensive business that produces a lot of GHG and CFC’s. Nuclear is neither clean nor green and has no place in a healthy green energy policy.

      Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face and nuclear has no part in any of it. We all need clean air and clean water that is not contaminated with regular and routing releases of radioactive isotopes to the water and air.

      I am working on the People’s Climate March which will take place before the UN General Assembly session on climate change. What are you doing?

      Reply
      1. John Hughes

        You just said “Enough studies have been done to prove that we can make the transition to a green economy without more use of fossil fuels.” Is that what you want? Why do you say “without more use of fossil fuels”.? In your transition to a green economy, is solar and wind increased, nuclear is eliminated, and the use of fossil remains the same?

    2. Peter Sipp

      Hi John, The folks at NIRS only “personal” agenda is to have a clean planet for the future generations to enjoy. This means you need to learn more about NIRS. How long have you been aware of it? What is your solution for an energy generating source that is healthy for future generations??? Cheers to you.

      Reply
  3. Marilyn Elie

    Matt Wald is a whore for the industry. Here is a copy of the letter I am sending in respect to his journalistic abilities and that of the NYT. This happens way to consistently for it to be just bad reporting – it is a reflection of the NYT policy on Indian Point.

    Marilyn Elie

    Letter to the Editor
    New York Times
    Re: Hearings on Water Permits for Indian Point: July 23, 2014

    It is unfortunate that a newspaper with the readership of the New York Times does such an amateur job of covering energy matters so close to home, that is, Indian Point. The recent Department of Environmental Conservation hearings over an alternative to closed cycle cooling, provides a striking example. There was no context to the hearings in your article and no strong voice from DEC as to why the hearings were being conducted; there was merely a passing reference to timeline “according to the department.” Departments don’t speak, people do. Similarly when you read that the “the grids pricing system is on a hair trigger to jump in case of shortages… experts say” You can only wonder – who are these experts? Certainly not the Independent System Operator that manages our grid. They are clear that we have a surplus of power through 2016 and that Indian Point Unit 2 could go off line and not even be missed because we have so many generators and such a robust free market in electricity. Their book Power Trends 2014 presents a very different picture of our energy future than that laid out in your article.
    Neither is the DEC “seeking to force the plant to get water permits as part of its license renewal.” That is just plain wrong. DEC is mandated to certify the quality of the waters of New York State by the federal Clean Water Act. The enforcement falls to DEC under a permit system that regulates discharges into the Hudson River, and all other rivers of the state. The protection of aquatic organisms is also part of their purview. They are required, under the law, to call for the Best Technology Available and to consider alternative means to achieve the same results, should it be cost effective. The DEC is not in the business of closing Indian Point as your article insinuates. They are in the business of protecting our rivers and streams and have been assiduously trying to do so since these hearing began 11 years ago. To say that this is the “ostensible” reason they are going through all this is slanted reporting and an insult to the professionals who have labored for over a decade on this issue through so much resistance from Entergy, the owner of Indian Point.
    Closed cycle cooling is the BTA as established by law; the DEC does not “favor” this technology, it is required to use it as a standard. They have not singled out Indian Point but are working to bring over 40 large water users in the state into compliance with the law. A story I have not noted being covered by the New York Times. Most large water users have proved far more cooperative than the owners of Indian Point and have worked with the DEC to find solutions acceptable to both sides. DEC has no ties or allegiance to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a semi-autonomous federal agency, as is strongly implied in your article.
    Neither does Riverkeeper “assert” that the reactors have killed a billion fish…” This matter has been litigated and right or wrong, 1.2 billion fish is the figure that will be used in appeals going forward. How do I know this? I talked with a DEC lawyer in Albany when I spent the day observing the ongoing hearings. I can only wonder why your reporter was not capable of doing the same thing.
    Quoting an Indian Point manager on the biology of the River is equally egregious. The line that “”Ninety-five percent of the fish eggs are killed and eaten by other fish” is an old industry canard that makes it seem fine to continue business as usual. Where was an expert voice explaining that these larvae and fish eggs are the bottom of the food cycle in the river and support all of the life that eats them and is in turn eaten by larger and larger organisms? Take away the bottom and the top collapses. That too has been litigated and the industry’s argument has been rejected in every state and federal legal proceeding.
    Neither Entergy nor DEC are in favor of “forced outages.” This public hearing was mandated last October by the administrative law judges in charge of the appeals process. The DEC has been clear that it favors BTA – which is not towers but closed cycle cooling of which there are different kinds. Entergy has waged an expensive advertising campaign for wedge wire which does not meet the standard. DEC has a final decision maker who will be responsible for making the call. After that the matter will be one more element of a very complicated court case.
    Your readers deserve better coverage and all of the facts on this important issue that will set our energy policy for the next twenty years.

    Sincerely,
    Marilyn Elie
    Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition

    Reply
    1. Peter Sipp

      Whew!!! Get ’em Marilyn!!! Thank you for setting the nyt STRAIGHT!!! I have noticed over time how mat wald has coddled the nukies. He will even make a story difficult to understand ( when the story is about a malfunction) by describing the length of a crack in the foreign means of measuring. Ha!!! that causes me to dislike atomic energy all the more. Finally, you and your other professional people keeping the pressure on entergy will bring them down. Their stock’s value is slipping, It fell $4.33 in two days last week alone. Love, Peace and Tenderness to ya’ll.

      Reply
  4. David Morse

    The New York State Energy Highway and the Cuomo endorsed “Alternative to Indian Point” includes the following proposals, currently being evaluated:
    Dunkirk Repowering, Cayuga Repowering, Danskammer Repowering, Greenidge Repowering and the creation of the West Point Project DC transmission system. It also credits 280 MW of renewables. The first four proposals listed are all coal plants that were no longer economical, being upgraded to natural gas. All of these repowering proposals are being protested by environmental groups such as Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the NPCA, countering with proposals for renewables. The problem is that there is a very real limit to the amount of fluctuation the grid can handle. These natural gas plant repowering proposals will be chosen over the renewables if NYISO evaluates them and determines that renewables will not provide the grid stability necessary to replace Indian Point. As an environmentalist, I don’t want to see that happen. I urge my fellow environmentalists to look at the whole picture, what the ACTUAL “Alternative to Indian Point”, being evaluated by the state, IS. If we do not offer realistic proposals, we will hurt our cause.

    I am a supporter of renewable energy, and the improvements to the grid to make them more feasible. However, I am an electrical engineer, and I am fearful that environmentalists here are selling a false narative. Renewable energy such as solar and wind are essential. However, they have a real impact on the grid. They fluctuate with the weather, and reduce grid stability. This places a limit on how much renewable energy the grid can handle. In order to keep the grid stable, peaking plants (fossil fuel) are utilized, controlled by grid operators. Peaking plants like Dunkirk, Danskammer, Cayuga and Greenidge. Engineers are working hard to increase grid stability to facilitate more renewables. But eliminating 2000 MW of baseload power, by closing Indian Point, reduces grid stability and impacts reliability. The narrative that NY will see blackouts is also false, because proposals that jeopardize grid reliability will not get approved. And you don’t have to take my word for any of this:

    The NYISO 2012 report stated “Reliability violations would occur in 2016 if the Indian Point Plant were to be retired at the latter of the two units’ current license expiration dates using the Base Case load forecast assumptions. In addition to the LOLE violations, transmission analysis demonstrated thermal violations per applicable Reliability Criteria. Under stress conditions, the voltage performance on the system without Indian Point would be degraded. To relieve the transmission security violations, load relief measures would be required for Zones G through K.”
    In order to prevent this, the state is evaluating Dunkirk, Danskammer, Cayuga and Greenidge.

    The point is, the alternative to Indian Point, being evaluated by the state, is natural gas repowering with 280 MW of renewables. In my mind, I’ll take Nuclear Power hands down.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      New York State, as is the case in the U.S. generally, is not anywhere near a level where renewables threaten grid stability. As former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said, and is quoted in our GreenWorld post today, Wellinghoff pointed to Australia and Germany to show that high levels of renewables need not impact grid reliability. “In Australia, they have over 10% distributed solar integrated into their grid — one of the highest levels in the world — and yet they’re managing their system … without any significant issues,” he said. “In Germany, they have, at times, over 50% of their total load … [is met] with solar and wind.”

      In fact, Germany actually “has a much, much higher level of reliability than we do in in the U.S.” And that’s with “much, much higher levels of renewables,” he said. “So that’s not an issue.”

      So what’s really having an impact on grid reliability? “Our reliability issues in the U.S. have little if anything to do with solar or wind,” he said. “They have to do with aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced and grid modernization that needs to take place.”

      The New York grid can handle far more than 280 MW of renewables–unless, of course, you think New York’s grid operators are so incompetent that they can’t keep up with operators in Germany, Denmark and other nations that are showing it’s possible to incorporate very large amounts of renewables into the grid without any loss of reliability.

      Indian Point–with its proximity to the financial capital of the world–is a menace to the entire world. It needs to be closed, and its power can be replaced. And yes, we agree with those who oppose the repowering proposals; renewables and energy efficiency can do the job.

      Reply
    2. Peter Sipp

      Hi David, the four coal burners that are being changed over to burn nat. gas is Waay better than the tons & tons of irradiated metals &!!!!! the nuclear waste that reactors generate. I will take hands down a little carbon from the four nat. gas plants than the n. waste that will need to be tended for 100,000 + years !!!

      Reply

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