At the Assembly hearing on the potential closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant this morning, lawmakers heard from energy policymakers, the company that owns the plant and some uninvited protesters.
Indian Point, which is located less than forty miles of the five boroughs, provides approximately thirty percent of the power for New York City and Westchester County. Those who want Indian Point shut down say the plant, which began operations in the early 1960′s, is outdated and dangerous. Indian Point’s supporters argue the plant is a vital part of the energy grid.
The Indian Point hearings were conducted against the backdrop of a recent pump failure at the plant that caused one of its reactors to be shut down Tuesday morning. Japan’s recent Fukushima Daichi nuclear disaster also weighed heavily on the proceedings. Many of the activists present brought signs and buttons referencing the Fukushima catastrophe and a Japanese television crew from TV Asahi was on hand to film the hearing.
Rick Gonzalez, Chief Operating Officer of the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the state electric system was first to testify. He was accompanied by NYISO’s vice president of external affairs, Tom Rumsey. Both men argued that shutting down the plant before putting other power options in place could put the reliability of the area’s power grid at risk.
“It’s during the peak load periods, those hot summer days where Indian Point is most important,” Mr. Gonzalez said.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, who noted that she represents “130,000 people in the peak fatality zone,” acknowledged that reliability is a concern, but she questioned Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Rumsey about whether the plant is safe.
“I question moving forward whether Indian Point provides that reliability and safety for the entire Lower Hudson Valley region, especially given what has happened in Japan recently,” Assemblywoman Jaffee said.
Mr. Rumsey said it’s not the NYISO’s job to address safety concerns.
“We don’t evaluate safety, we manage the grid for the state, that’s our role,” Mr. Rumsey said. “We’re a non-governmental agency, so we don’t play in that world.
Before the next witness testified, the hearing was interrupted by a young woman named Luna Scarano who called for a “mic check” and read a statement prepared by the Occupy Wall Street environmental working group.
“Indian Point is old, dangerous and unnecessary. Community members who have worked for decades to close Indian Point have been denied a voice at this hearing,” Mr. Scarano said. Other activists in the room repeated her words after her.
“Indian Point is old, dangerous and unnecessary, a Fukushima waiting to happen on the Hudson. In the event of a meltdown, there would be no way of evacuating the 20 million people who live within a 50 mile radius of the plant.”
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who’s chair of the energy committee, vainly attempted to end the interruption.
“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen.”
Ms. Scarano was undeterred and accused Entergy Nuclear, the company which owns the plant, of putting New Yorkers in harm’s way.
“Entergy is recklessly endangering all of us, radiating the Hudson and killing millions of fish per year. For what? For providing a small fraction of New York City’s electricity,” Mr. Scarano said. “We demand that Indian Point be shut down now before there is a meltdown.”
When Ms. Scarano was finished, Assemblyman Cahill jokingly asked her to take an oath as if she was an official witness.
“Do you swear that everything you said was the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” he asked. “Thank you.”
Mr. Cahill then reminded the audience that those who wished to comment could do so in writing.
Joseph Oates, vice president of energy management at Con Edison, was next to testify. He said other power options should be explored, but until those are in place, Indian Point remains necessary.
“Right now, it’s needed for reliability,” Mr. Oates said. “We’ve also made an assessment about what will happen in 2016. We’re coming up with the same number that the ISO did–that there would be an approximately 1000 megawatt shortfall on hot summer days.”
Mr. Oates said, in the next five years, he expects the area’s electricity demand to grow to “2,000 megawatts of need if nothing else is done.”
“Our view is that until there is a plan, until a plan is in place, until those megawatts are replaced, you really can’t shut down this plant,” he said.
Ms. Scarano wasn’t the only activist who made her presence known. Three men stood in the back of the room holding signs that said “Indian Point=Jobs.” A security guard told them they had to remove their signs.
The Politicker spoke to the men and found out they were representatives of SHARE (short for Safe Healthy Affordable Reliable Energy), an advocacy group that has several Entergy executives on its board. SHARE’s executive director, Yonel Letellier Sosa, expressed dismay that he wasn’t allowed to hold his sign when the protesters caused such a loud interruption.
“The anti-IP group got up and they pretty much started a ruckus. They interrupted the session,” Mr. Sosa said. “I mean, what we did was we put up the signs. We were quiet about it and they were very violent, in a way, and intrusive.”
“We support Indian Point. As you heard, they supply 25-30% of the city’s energy. They employ hundreds of union members. It’s practically emissions free,” Mr. Sosa said.
Mr. Sosa said he believed about 1,100 workers are currently employed at the plant.
“However, there are other jobs on the periphery; in the town, and the trucks that go by and deliveries of certain things,” Mr. Sosa said.
Mr. Sosa said switching to natural gas or coal power would increase pollution, while moving to solar or wind power simply isn’t currently feasible.
“How the hell would you get 5,000 megawatts of solar power? You’d probably have to fill Central Park or more with solar panels. I don’t know if that’s even possible,” Mr. Sosa said. “If you’re talking about wind power, we would need 2,000 windmills, I did my research, to provide 2,000 megawatts. Each windmill costs $15,000-$20,000. I added it up and it came out to $40 billion you can imagine how much 5,000 megawatts of solar power would come up to. For $50,000 you can do one family home, barely.”
Based on Mr. Sosa’s estimated top cost of $20,000 per windmill and one windmill per megawatt, 5,000 megawatts of power would cost $100 million rather than $40 billion. Mr. Sosa also said it was unfair to bring up the Fukushima Daichi disaster.
“They were talking about the plant in Japan and how this happened how that happened,” Mr. Sosa said. “Look, the plant was hit by a tsunami and it was hit by an earthquake. I mean you cant go against mother nature. Things happen.”
Testimony was scheduled to continue throughout the afternoon.