From Nuclear To Renewables: Can New York Make The Change?


Electricity generation from the Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) nuclear plant, located north of New York City, is capable of being replaced predominantly with renewable energy and energy efficiency resources at a reasonable cost, according to new findings from utility industry research firm Synapse Energy Economics Inc.

The report, released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Riverkeeper, analyzes various energy and capacity scenarios for replacing the electricity production from the “aging and problem-plagued” IPEC when it is retired.

In January, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, along with Riverkeeper, announced an agreement with Entergy to close one unit of the 2 GW Indian Point plant, located 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, by April 2020 and the second by April 2021.

Nearly 20 million people live and work within 50 miles of IPEC, which supplies electricity to the greater New York City area and has a long history of “operational, safety and environmental problems,” according to NRDC and Riverkeeper.

As long as appropriate policies and transmission upgrades are established, the report says, New York can rely mostly on energy efficiency and renewable energy resources to replace the plant, which generates roughly 16 TWh of energy annually. Specifically, the renewable energy would come from onshore wind, solar photovoltaics and eventually offshore wind.

The report, “Clean Energy for New York: Replacement Energy and Capacity Resources for the Indian Point Energy Center Under New York Clean Energy Standard (CES),” says effectively scaling up renewable energy under New York State’s already adopted 50%-by-2030 CES, as well as adopting policies to increase energy efficiency investments in the state’s buildings, is critical to replacing the plant’s two units with clean energy.

Synapse Energy’s Bob Fagan, lead report author, says, “The report is a comprehensive update of an October 2012 analysis looking at the same replacement options, but this one incorporates the many market and policy trends that have arisen over the past four years.”

This includes, he says, upgrades to transmission infrastructure; the “plummeting costs” of wind and solar energy; and a “marked expansion” of energy efficiency resources and distributed energy generation, such as rooftop solar power.

“We examined six scenarios,” he continues, “and there is no doubt that with the right policies in place, Indian Point can be replaced with low-carbon options.”

According to NRDC and Riverkeeper, the portfolio of clean energy outlined in the report is expected to have a very small impact on consumer costs over the 2016-2030 time frame. Specifically, the report claims, the Indian Point retirement will add less than 1% to overall wholesale electric system costs; retail price impacts would be smaller because wholesale costs are, on average, less than 50% of the average residential bill.

In all six scenarios for replacing IPEC, carbon emissions decline through the 2030 CES time frame. The greatest emissions reductions are realized with higher levels of energy efficiency investments, combined with the construction of the Champlain Hudson Express transmission line, delivering 1 GW of hydropower from Quebec to New York City.

The report says effective implementation of the state’s 50%-by-2030 renewables initiative under the CES will drive a major build-out of utility-scale and distributed solar, as well as land-based and offshore wind, in the coming years. Combined with the necessary scaling-up of energy efficiency and a more nimble grid, this reduces the reliance on traditional, base-load energy sources that have to run 24/7 – unlike variable renewable resources, the report explains.

Under aggressive – but cost-effective and potentially attainable – increases in energy efficiency beyond the levels assumed in the new CES, all of the consumption met by IPEC’s electricity generation could be met by more efficient energy use alone by 2023, the report adds.

“Recent transmission improvements – coupled with energy efficiency gains, cheaper renewables and lower demand estimates – show that New York is already on its way to a reliable, affordable, clean energy future,” comments Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper. “This report shows that when Indian Point closes in 2021, that power can be replaced entirely with clean sources, as long as we take advantage of the additional renewable energy and efficiency options available to us. This is a huge opportunity for New York. We’ll have plenty energy to keep the lights on – even on the hottest days – and New Yorkers won’t face big increases in electric bills.”

The full report can be found here.

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