County Evaluates Impact of Nuclear Plant Closure

Concerns about electricity rates and local economy

By Holly Crocco

Putnam County officials are bracing for the impact of the scheduled closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in 2021, in the form of lost revenue for the county, lost jobs and the prospect of an energy rate hike, although a newly released study downplays the latter scenario. (See below.)

The closure of Indian Point was announced in January by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Entergy, which owns and operates the plant near Peekskill in Westchester County. The plant can produce up to 2,000 megawatts of power.

Tony Sutton, the county’s emergency services commissioner, described the closure process to lawmakers during a meeting on Feb. 21 of the Protective Services Committee.

Indian Point (file photo)

He noted that “spent” radioactive fuel rods were not supposed to remain at the facility, which opened in the 1970s. “It was always intended for the fuel to be shipped off-site and be recycled, but over the course of years and the evolution of the world, every single rod that was ever brought to Indian Point is still at Indian Point,” he said. The rods are stored for at least five years in 40-foot-deep pools of water and, since 2008, removed to sealed containers on cement platforms.

There the radioactive rods will remain “until somebody can figure out what to do” with them, he said.

According to Sutton, each reactor operates for two years and then is shut down for refueling, during which about a third of the fuel is replaced.

The proposed closure of each reactor is scheduled to coincide with the refueling schedule, said Sutton. One unit will be refueled this month and in 2019, then taken offline in April 2021. The other will be refueled next year, then go offline in April 2020.

When a reactor is refueled, the plant takes advantage of the system being down to complete hundreds of maintenance tasks, employing many steamfitters, carpenters, electricians, masons and other workers, Sutton said.

“It basically doubles the workforce at the site,” he said. Contractors “descend on the plant and they work like bees to get it done” during the three-week refueling process.

New York Energy

+ About 80 percent of renewable generation in the state comes from hydroelectricity. (New York is home to the largest hydroelectric power plant in the eastern U.S.)

+ Most new renewable power in New York is from wind. The state has the potential for 140,000 megawatts of onshore wind energy, particularly around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, on peaks of the Adirondack and Catskill mountains and along the Long Island shoreline.

+ According to the most recent data (from 2014), New York residents spend an average of $3,446 annually on energy, including transportation, ranking 49 of the 50 states and D.C. By comparison, North Dakota residents spend $11,094 per year (1) and Maine residents $5,681 (7).

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (eia.gov)

Sutton said some officials have expressed concern that if any serious defects are found during the remaining refuelings, the reactor could be shut down earlier than scheduled without a replacement supply in place for the energy it produces.

However, he said, Entergy must order fuel a year ahead of time and plan for the large workforce that occupies the site during the refueling, so that scenario is unlikely. “The truth of the matter is, I think you’re going to see them honor those [closing] dates,” he said.

The governor can ask Entergy to keep the plant open longer if the state needs more time to get alternative energy supplies in place, Sutton said.

Sutton said there are not only concerns about the impact of the closing on the plant’s 1,000 employees (“Everybody who works there makes a good salary,” he said) but on the economy in Putnam County.

He said his department, for example, expects to suffer a $420,000 loss in revenue provided by Entergy for emergency services, and that the company also underwrites firefighter training and safety drills and funds community events such as fireworks. “It’s going to be a big hit,” said Sutton.

Sutton said funding to the county from Entergy won’t dry up immediately, because the plant will still require maintenance and safety work while it is decommissioned. For example, he said, for about 16 months after spent fuel is loaded into a pool, it needs to be monitored because if the pool loses water, the rods can spontaneously combust in what is called a zirconium fire. After that period passes, the monitor centers and response organizations located off-site can close.

Sutton also explained that Entergy has been banking money over the years to help with the cost of the eventual closure of the plant. “There’s a large pot of money available for cleaning up the site and making it safe,” he said.

It is likely the buildings onsite will eventually be demolished, he added.

Replacing Indian Point

A report commissioned by Riverkeeper and the National Resources Defense Council, who have fought for years for the closure of Indian Point, concluded that New York can replace the electricity generated by the nuclear power plant but will need to change its long-term energy policies.

A $2.2 billion, 333-mile hydropower transmission line that has been proposed to run from Canada to New York City could make up about half of the power that Indian Point now provides, with the rest coming from gas-fired plants, and alternative energy such as solar and wind.

The report, prepared by Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and released Feb. 23, argues that New York could rely much less on new sources of power if it were more aggressive about reducing demand. It pointed to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which have reduced electricity use 2.7 and 2.9 percent, respectively, through programs that offer consumer incentives to use more efficient lighting, appliances and HVAC systems. The energy savings from similar efficiency efforts in New York state is about 1 percent.

Synapse calculated that, under various scenarios, the wholesale cost of electricity in New York could rise anywhere from 0.2 to 2.1 percent without the Indian Point supply.

Bill Nulk, president of the Mahopac-based Putnam County Chamber of Commerce who also serves on the board of the Putnam County Industrial Development Agency, warned legislators that if a reliable replacement of the energy to be lost by the closure is not found and energy prices become destabilized, businesses will not want to come into or remain in Putnam County. “If you lose that and you can’t replace it, that’s a big detriment to attracting the businesses that we need in this area,” he said.

In addition, the many Putnam residents who are employed by the plant will be left without income, which will also impact ancillary businesses such as restaurants and groceries, he said.

He asked legislators to stay on the heels of “the powers that be” to make sure the region finds a replacement energy source to keep people working, keep energy available and rates manageable.

In a blog post in January, Jennifer Maher, the chamber’s board chair, expressed similar concerns. “Entergy has been a good community citizen and an active participant in bolstering the economy of the lower Hudson Valley,” Maher wrote. “This is going to create quite a mess, and the question to be asked is, ‘Why? ’ ”

2 Responses to "County Evaluates Impact of Nuclear Plant Closure"

  1. Steve Laifer   March 4, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    The dire warning to Putnam legislators by Bill Nulk, president of the Mahopac-based Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, makes no sense. “If a reliable replacement of the energy to be lost by the closure is not found … businesses will not want to come into or remain in Putnam County,” he warned.

    I am happy to inform Mr. Nulk and Putnam legislators that Putnam gets absolutely no power from Indian Point, so they can put their unfounded fears to rest and turn their attention to actual issues that affect Putnam County.

  2. Lithgow Osborne   March 10, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    The closing of Indian Point, when it happens, will benefit everyone of us by virtue of the fact that it becomes less of a danger to the people who live here and the Hudson River. With out a nuclear power plant next door you might just see your property values rise.

    The real loss is political donations. Entergy spends lots of money on that. If the county is concerned about how much this will effect the bottom line, perhaps it should cut back on spending and salaries and institute a hiring freeze.