One of the main reasons I got involved with solar energy was Indian Point. Shortly after reading the 9/11 Commission Report, I realized that the hijackers who flew their planes into the World Trade Towers had navigated to lower Manhattan using the Hudson River as their visual line of sight guiding them to their targets. Along the way, they passed almost directly above the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, NY on the banks of the Hudson. Had they chosen Indian Point as their targets rather than the more symbolic World Trade Towers, I would most likely have perished along with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other innocent civilians, as my family lives less than a dozen miles from Indian Point.
As I came to understand more about the nuclear power plants in Buchanan, I discovered that the plants’ owners, Entergy, promoted the facility with the slogan “Safe. Secure. Vital.” But after 9/11 it was painfully clear to the residents of Westchester County that the plants were neither safe, nor secure from a lethal terrorist attack that potentially endangered the entire New York metropolitan area. But what about the third part of the slogan— “Vital.”? According to the conventional wisdom, if Indian Point were to shut down, our way of life would be in imminent danger of collapsing for lack of electricity. The plant produced so much “pollution free electricity” that removing it from the grid would be a form of civil self-amputation, if not suicide. And that was a big part of why I got into the solar energy business. I realized that being against Indian Point wasn’t enough. Regardless of the immense danger that Indian Point’s continued operation represented, if we couldn’t live without it, there wouldn’t ever be a way to shut it down. Fossil fuels were dirty and expensive, local wind wasn’t appropriate for such a densely-populated region, and other forms of renewables were either immature or too expensive, or impossible to scale to a meaningful level. Solar power seemed the most likely way to replace the nuclear power plants in our midst.
So even though I felt like I was trying to siphon the ocean using a garden hose, every time I sold another solar energy system, at least it also felt like things were moving in the right direction. This week a report was released that felt like a vindication. Though it was commissioned by the consortium that supports the energy storage industry, at long last we now have credible evidence to support the notion that Indian Point’s 2000 MW of electricity could be replaced by a combination of renewable energy and batteries. The study was authored by Ed Burgess of Strategen Consulting, and concludes that 450MW of batteries along with a combination of wind, solar, and energy efficiency can not only replace the output of Indian Point, but can do so while saving New Yorkers an estimated $315 million over five years. This comes on the heels of the agreement reached by the State to shutter the plants by 2021. I reached out by phone to Mr. Burgess to see if he could confirm the report’s conclusions. Burgess claims that all the report’s conclusions are justifiable based on the assumptions enumerated at its conclusion. And digging into the assumptions, such as using O&R rather than ConEd as the basis for calculating peak reduction benefits, provides reassurance that the savings estimated are conservative, and could easily be higher. So, for those of you who’ve been concerned that the planned closing of Indian Point will necessarily lead to either higher electric rates, dirtier air, or more climate changing emissions, now there is reason to hope that all those outcomes can be avoided, if we make the right choices.