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
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