New York Post
April 6, 2020
The devastation being wrought by the coronavirus has underscored two undeniable facts. First: We were woefully unprepared for a black-swan event like this pandemic. Second: Modern society — our medical system, in particular — is completely dependent on the electric grid.
What if New York’s electric grid were to be hit by another black swan during the pandemic, triggering blackouts across significant parts of the city?
That terrifying thought is relevant now because the city’s single most important source of electricity — the Indian Point Energy Center, which sits about 40 miles due north of Times Square in Westchester County— is being permanently shuttered.
By the end of this month, one of the two reactors at the 2,069-megawatt facility will stop producing power. The remaining reactor will be shut down next April.
This is the exact wrong time to be closing Indian Point, which by itself reliably provides about 25 percent of the electricity consumed in New York City. Closing the plant will reduce the resilience of New York’s electric grid and increase the state’s reliance on natural gas for electricity production.
What if gas supplies were suddenly stopped or reduced due to an accident, terrorism or a cyberattack? (Recall, too, that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been blocking new gas pipelines for years.)
Renewable-energy advocates have repeatedly claimed wind and solar energy can supplant Indian Point’s juice output. Yet due to ferocious opposition from rural towns and counties, very little onshore wind-energy capacity is being built in the state.
Offshore wind has potential, but building enough capacity to replace Indian Point could take decades. And what would happen if those wind turbines were destroyed by a hurricane?
The decision to prematurely shutter the nuclear plant was a victory for environmental groups — including Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council — which repeatedly claimed Indian Point was unsafe and that the 16 terawatt-hours of carbon-free electricity it produces every year could be replaced by renewables and increases in efficiency.
The groups convinced Cuomo of that, and three years ago, he announced the plan to close Indian Point. At the time, he declared that when the plant closes, “New Yorkers can sleep a little better.” Last year, Cuomo signed into law a bill that requires 70 percent of the state’s electricity be derived from renewables by 2030.
Today, our hospitals are being flooded with sick people who need ventilators and other electricity-dependent equipment to stay alive. If you were one of those virus-stricken patients, what would you choose to power your ventilator? Solar panels and wind turbines or a 2,000-megawatt nuclear plant?
The essential point here is that electric grids — particularly those in densely populated cities like New York — should not be too reliant on any one thing, be it a transformer, transmission line, fuel source or generation facility.
And yet, that is exactly what is happening: New York is concentrating its risks on a single fuel: natural gas.
In 2018, I was lucky to get a tour of Indian Point. I walked through the hangar-like turbine hall of the Unit 2 reactor. After seeing it up close, I became convinced that Indian Point is one of New York’s most valuable assets.
It’s a marvel of engineering and ingenuity that should be appreciated alongside other iconic landmarks, like the Hoover Dam. Alas, the workers at Indian Point have already begun reducing the power output of Unit 2 in anticipation of the April 30 shutdown.
New Yorkers take cheap, abundant, reliable electricity as a given. Yet the coronavirus proves that black swans can have calamitous impacts on modern societies.
Amid the current devastation, Cuomo should immediately order that Indian Point remain online to help assure the reliability of electric supplies. And New Yorkers must hope that another black swan doesn’t alight on the electric grid and, in doing so, turn the current crisis into an even greater catastrophe.
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