Piecing Together NY Nuclear Plant’s Power Replacement Puzzle
Today’s announcement by New York State’s Governor Cuomo that the Indian Point nuclear power plant will shut down by 2021 – 14 years early – was accompanied by commitments to replace the facility’s electrical generation capacity with carbon-free sources in a way that won’t spike utility bills. This is a tall order.
The power plant – located about 30 miles north of New York City – has been plagued by safety concerns for decades and Governor Cuomo, along with several environmental groups and other stakeholders, have led efforts to shut the facility on safety and environmental grounds for years. However, the nuclear power plant has over 2,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity generation capacity, which accounts for roughly 25% of New York City and Westchester County’s load. For comparison, the capacity of an average coal plant is between 500 to 600 MW.
It will be challenging to replace 2,000 MW’s entirely with renewables and energy efficiency without significantly increasing costs to ratepayers, but state officials and environmental groups maintain it can be done.
The Power Replacement Puzzle
New York State and environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council are confident that Indian Point’s generation capacity can be replaced with a combination of energy efficiency measures, demand response programs and new high-voltage transmission infrastructure that will bring new and existing renewable energy sources to the New York metropolitan area.
A 2012 study commissioned by the NRDC and Riverkeeper concluded that customers’ retail electric bills will increase by approximately 1% as a result of replacing Indian Point’s generation capacity with the mixture of sources described above. That study, entitled “Indian Point Replacement Analysis: A Clean Energy Roadmap,” is in the process of being updated and the new version is expected to be released by mid-February, according to the NRDC. Wholesale power prices have decreased since 2012 along with renewable energy production costs, particularly for wind and solar. These and other market developments will be reflected in the new report that will provide more guidance on the plant closure’s ratepayer impact.
Con Edison and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) track progress made toward replacing the power generated by Indian Point, known as the “Implementation Plan,” portions of which date back to 2012. The New York Public Service Commission collects and maintains the progress reports. Through the third quarter of 2016, total peak demand reduction of 149.2 MW has been committed and achieved through a combination of technologies:
While encouraging, that progress accounts for only a small fraction of Indian Point’s total capacity, and Con Edison and NYSERDA expect the total MW reduction numbers to decline going forward. This is mainly because the deadlines for these programs have expired and there is currently no new funding allocated for their continuation.
This is only one piece of the power replacement puzzle, however, and state officials maintain that adequate measures are in place to ensure there will be plenty of power available by 2021. “While Indian Point currently produces 2,000 megawatts of electrical power, several energy transmission upgrades and energy efficiency measures will produce more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity (with over 700 megawatts are already in-service, reducing the need to replace every megawatt of power currently generated)”, Jon Sorensen, New York Public Service Commission’s Director of Media Communications said via email.