This is a follow up to the podcast titled “Water Wars in New York” on May 27, 2010 in which I discussed how NY State is using their authority to issue Water Quality Certificates to wage war against the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. In case you missed that show, New York is holding the plant’s 20 year license renewal hostage by refusing to issue a Certificate of Water Quality unless the plant agrees to install expensive cooling towers. The plant has argued that the cost of cooling towers, approximately $2 Billion, is excessive and disproportionate to the environmental benefit that would be derived. In fact, the plant has identified an alternate technology that would provide greater environmental benefits at about one-tenth of the cost of installing cooling towers. Thus far those arguments have fallen on deaf ears.
In my further research on this topic I discovered a damming piece of evidence that proves NY State is giving preferential treatment to fossil fuels while at the same time imposing unfair regulations on neighboring nuclear energy facilities, the largest competitors to fossil fuels.
There are several other large power plants on the Hudson River that generate electricity by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. All of those plants, like Indian Point, use the Hudson River for cooling. One of the plants, the Bowline plant, is in Haverstraw, NY only about five miles across the river and downstream from Indian Point. Bowline is a two unit gas and oil fired power plant with a combined output of 1,182 MW (slightly larger than each Indian Point nuclear unit).
There are many similarities between Bowline and Indian Point: Bowline, like Indian Point, is required to maintain a NY State water permit. Bowline, also like Indian Point, evaluated several alternative technologies to reduce fish and fish larva mortality. The Bowline analysis reached similar conclusions to the one performed by Indian Point; they concluded that converting to a closed cooling water system using cooling towers would provide the greatest reduction in fish mortality, but at a very high cost. Instead, the Bowline plant offered to use a combination of technologies that would provide 80% to 95% percent of the benefit that would be derived from the vastly more expensive cooling towers, but at 1/30th of the cost.
That’s where the similarities end. In the case of the Bowline oil and gas plant, the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation accepted the lower cost alternatives to installing cooling towers. On the topic of cooling towers, in a letter from Denise Sheehan, the DEC Commissioner they stated;
The estimated cost of retrofitting Bowline with a closed cycle cooling system is more than 30 times greater than the selected suite of technologies yet yields approximately equivalent reductions in impingement mortality. While potential entrainment reductions from closed-cycle cooling would be approximately 10 -15% greater than called for in this permit, the Department has determined that, at this time, the cost of closed cycle cooling at Bowline is wholly disproportionate to the reductions.
The cost of the “alternative technologies” at Bowline were estimated to be less than one percent of one year’s revenue, while the cost of cooling towers were said to be about 30 times more.
So here’s the “smoking gun” proving institutionalized anti-nuclear bias in the NY State government: for a gas and oil power plant they allowed the cost of various technologies to be considered, and they ruled out cooling towers because the high cost was “disproportionate” to the benefit provided. Yet, when the nuclear plant next door tried to make the exact same argument the state refused! In the case of Indian Point, New York stated cooling towers are the only available option, even though the plant provided for lower cost alternatives that would, over the life of the plant, provide GREATER reductions in fish fatalities!
Here’s another tidbit to consider: because of the high cost of oil and natural gas the Bowline plant (according to NY State) operates only about half of the time. If Indian Point is forced to install cooling towers the plant will have to shut down for about 44 months. During that time Bowline will be one of the electricity generating plants that will be called upon to make up for the lost generation. This means the Bowline plant will be running more, killing more fish, and emitting more air pollution and greenhouse gases. And don’t forget when they run at 100% rather than their normal 50% their profits double too!
This favoritism towards oil and gas and bias against nuclear is occurring in a deregulated, competitive electricity market. The state’s role in a deregulated energy market is to set fair policies and laws that promote fair competition and to protect the customers from unfair practices. In this case NY State is doing the opposite by imposing unfair and onerous rules on one form of generation while giving competitors a pass! If the state gets their way the ratepayers will suffer two ways; their electricity bills will be higher and the air they breath will get dirtier. I’ll pose this question to my listeners, “In light of this clearly biased treatment, do you think the federal government should intervene? Could this case fall under the jurisdiction of either the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or the US Environmental Protection Agency?”
Indian Point is not alone in this battle. The State of New jersey is going down the same path with the Oyster Creek Nuclear plant, and the State of California has recently imposed similar rules on nuclear plants on the Pacific Ocean. At least in California they are applying the rule uniformly to fossil fueled plants, but that’s a story for another day.