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Indian Point nuclear power plant eyed for shutdown

Indian Point nuclear power plant, seen in 2009.

Indian Point nuclear power plant, seen in 2009. Credit: Getty Images

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday announced a long-anticipated plan to shutter the 1960s-era Indian Point nuclear power station in a deal with owner Entergy that he said will see the plant cease operations by April 2021.

Cuomo, in making the remarks in his State of the State speech in Manhattan, pledged the closure would have a “negligible” impact on ratepayers — as much as $3 a month for average ratepayers, including Long Islanders, a state spokesman confirmed.

The deal to close the plant, which Cuomo said was needed for safety reasons, comes as the governor has been separately pushing a clean-energy standard that relies to a large extent on an estimated $7.6 billion in ratepayer-funded subsidies for four upstate nuclear power plants to achieve ambitious reductions in greenhouse emissions. That plan, the subject of multiple lawsuits and ratepayer protests, is expected to cost LIPA ratepayers $45 million a year, or around $2 a month for average customers.

Cuomo on Monday said problems with the Indian Point plant and its proximity to major population centers — it’s 45 miles north of Times Square — were behind his 15-year effort to close it. Cuomo’s Mount Kisco home is around 17 miles from the Buchanan plant, which has experienced 40 safety and operational problems since 2012, including 13 unplanned shutdowns and a history of radioactive leaks into groundwater.

“For 15 years, I have been deeply concerned by the continuing safety violations at Indian Point, especially given its location in the largest and most densely populated metropolitan region in the country,” Cuomo said. “I am proud to have secured this agreement with Entergy to responsibly close the facility 14 years ahead of schedule to protect the safety of all New Yorkers.”

He said the state has plenty of options for power from current and future energy sources to replace the 2,000 megawatts that the Indian Point plant currently provides. A megawatt powers around 800 homes. Cuomo cited hydro power from Canadian sources and plans for new green energy plants, including offshore wind farms off Long Island, as potential replacements. Many green-energy sources are “intermittent,” depending on sun and wind, unlike the firm capacity from baseload plants fueled by fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Cuomo’s office said replacement power sources from current transmission upgrades and efficiency measures would make up about 700 megawatts of the 2,000 that need to be replaced. New generation sources that are “readily available” by 2021 could add another 1,000 megawatts — all told “more than enough electrical power” to replace Indian Point, it said.

The governor said the decision won’t affect aggressive plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and he announced plans to reduce those emissions even further.

One observer pointed to the apparent contradiction in Cuomo’s announcement, given his plan to subsidize upstate nuke plants.

“Upstate New Yorkers who live within 50 miles of those [state-subsidized] plants need the same protections as their downstate counterparts,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which opposes the $7.6 billion bailout. “The governor should work to close upstate nuclear plants and drop his plan to force New Yorkers to spend nearly $8 billion to bail them out.”

As part of the deal, Entergy has agreed to end all operations at its Unit 2 plant as early as April 2020, and Unit 3 by April 2021 — 13 and 14 years earlier than planned, respectively. Indian Point employees will be offered jobs at other jobs at other utilities around the state, and training in renewable technologies. The plant will remain subject to annual inspections, and the state can still bring legal action for any violations.

As part of the deal, Entergy will establish a $15 million fund to support “environmental restoration” and other community projects, including restoration of vital wetlands. The agreement also includes a plan to “mitigate” impacts on local taxing districts, which depend on payments in lieu of taxes from the plant to fund local schools, police and other expenses. The four years until the closure takes effect provides “ample time” to plan and mitigate those impacts, Cuomo’s office said.

Entergy in a statement said it agreed to shut the plant, which employs nearly 1,000 people, because of lower energy prices that have reduced its revenue and higher operating expenses.

Matthew Cordaro, a proponent of nuclear power as former senior vice president of the Long Island Lighting Co.’s failed efforts to open a plant in Shoreham, said Cuomo’s plan raises “serious economic and practical questions,” including impacts on ratepayers statewide.

“We should be learning an important lesson from the abandonment of Shoreham,” he said. “The customer always ends up picking up the cost. We are still paying for Shoreham today.”

Environmental groups largely cheered the plan, including some who grudgingly backed the clean-energy plan despite its reliance on upstate nuke plants.

Kit Kennedy, a director of energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has long opposed renewing licenses for Indian Point, called Cuomo’s deal to close it “welcome news for the 20 million people living within 50 miles” of the plant.

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