Franz Litz – Closing Indian Point: An Opportunity for Cleaner Energy

Written by: WAMCRadio    Filed under: Franz Litz     Comments: Comments Off    Tags

New York City is putting a whole new spin on nuclear energy’s NIMBY problem.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is questioning the State’s unofficial plan to pull the plug on the Indian Point nuclear-power plant in the lower Hudson Valley—New York City’s backyard. 

The 40-year-old plant, located just 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, is surrounded by staggering numbers of people: 300,000 live within 10 miles; three million within 30 miles and about 12 million within 50 miles of the nuclear plant.

Many of those people are calling on regulators to shut Indian Point down over fears about the plant’s safety. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo is eager to give them what they want when the plant’s federal licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.  

The ace up Cuomo’s sleeve is the same card played in Vermont to force closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant—Cuomo will deny the plant’s water quality approvals.

While Cuomo has a potentially winning strategy to shut Indian Point down, he does not appear to have a strategy for replacing it.

That is what is keeping Mayor Bloomberg up at night.  

Despite all of the worries around nuclear safety, Indian Point has helped to keep the lights on and the air clean for four decades.  Unlike power plants that burn coal or oil or gas, nuclear power plants do not pollute the air.

And Indian Point’s nuclear reactors generate a whopping 2,000 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power an estimated 2 million homes.  

Filling this gap on the fly will not be easy.  And replacing non-polluting nuclear power with coal or natural gas may mean turning back the clock on hard-won reductions in air pollution.

Not so long ago, New York City had the worst air pollution of any city in the United States. 

In 1965, The New York Times reported on a landmark study that concluded breathing in the Big Apple for a single day could do more damage to a person’s health than smoking half a pack of cigarettes. 

Make no mistake about it, dirty air is dangerous. 

Chronic bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer and premature death are among the most serious risks of prolonged exposure to dirty air.  And burning fossil fuels to generate electricity is the single largest source of global warming pollution in the country.

That is why the Northeast has struggled for decades to protect public health by reducing air pollution.

A recent study by the Charles River Associates concluded that if Indian Point is closed, as many as five large gas-burning power plants would be needed to replace it.  Another possibility is drawing power from coal plants in Pennsylvania, up wind of the Northeast. The study suggested that this would almost certainly increase pollution and turn back the clock on clean air in the Hudson Valley.

Would this really happen?

Only if we let it.

The National Academies of Sciences concluded in a 2006 study that renewable energy resources like wind and solar could replace the electric-power provided by Indian Point if the right policies were put into place.

More recent studies at Columbia University and the Pace Energy and Climate Center have similarly shown that New York has large opportunities to reduce the need for electricity through energy efficiency improvements and better use of technologies that capture wasted heat.  

The Empire State Building recently completed a $550 million energy-efficiency retrofit, which earned the 80-year-old building the LEED-Gold certification.

Scores of similar energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are in the pipeline. 

Reducing energy use through new efficiencies and supplying more electricity using clean renewable sources of energy is a winning proposition for replacing Indian Point.

Mayor Bloomberg is right to question the closing of Indian Point given the size of the plant and its air-pollution-free electricity.  But we do not have to look at closing Indian Point as a crisis.

Closing Indian Point is an opportunity.  Let’s make sure we don’t waste it.

Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.

Error: Unable to create directory D:\Hosting\7542576\html/wp-content/uploads/2015/05. Is its parent directory writable by the server?


WAMC/Northeast Public Radio is a regional public radio network serving parts of seven northeastern states. These include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Stations and translators are in twenty locations throughout the region. Alan Chartock is President and CEO of the network. Our studios and offices are located at 318 Central Avenue in Albany, NY. WAMC/Northeast Public Radio is a member of National Public Radio and an affiliate of Public Radio International. Financial support comes from listeners who contribute annually in fund drives and other appeals as well as from underwriting by businesses, grant support for WAMC's National Productions and governmental sources such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the New York State Education Department.

Website - Twitter - Facebook - More Posts

Comments are closed.