Commentary • October 16, 2012

On Closing Indian Point: What Options for Energy are There?

All things being equal, I think most people would prefer to not have nuclear fission occur in their own back yard. I have often stated that if Indian Point were to cease operations, the property values in Verplanck would skyrocket. The debate about the renewal of Indian Point’s license rages while I believe that most people are unsure of what options they really have.

Most people, I would assert, are neither for nor against Indian Point operating, but they are all for having energy. So, as a person who would prefer to not have a nuclear reactor a few miles north of me, I have to ask: If Indian Point were closed, where would we get the energy to replace that which the facility produces?

I have asked this question before to folks who are vocally against the plant. The typical answer was a meandering double talk about “the grid,” the need for conservation, and graphic descriptions of radiation poisoning. That does not answer the question. I know how gruesome auto accidents can be, but I drive my car daily. It is the risk of existing in society. The same goes for energy. What are the alternatives?

Indian Point supplies about one third of the electricity to Westchester and New York City. Millions of people turn on their lights, cook their food, and watch the Yankees choke on their TVs thanks to the energy the power plant gives them. You can’t just conserve and not miss the energy the facility produces. You have to get another source of energy somewhere, somehow, at a commensurate cost. How?

Convert the plant to coal and bring a little Columbia County, PA to Westchester?
Put a wind farm on the Hudson or Long Island Sound?
Giant Habitrails with jaguars instead of hamsters?

What I’d like to hear from the advocates of closing the plant are pragmatic alternatives. I am sure they exist, but I simply don’t hear them above the vitriol.

Years ago, I lived in Rochester, NY, which, if you don’t know, is located right on the Erie Canal. Some towns outside of Rochester have their own municipal utility companies, such as Fairport, NY, which has harnessed the clean power of water and given residents electricity at absurdly low prices- I am talking about heating (yes, heating) and powering a 3000 square foot home for less than $150 a month.

Could we do that here? We don’t have an Erie canal but Croton has a river and a pretty powerful gorge, and Ossining is loaded with brooks and has an aqueduct. Westchester has the Saw Mill River. We have the Bronx River. We have the Hutchinson River. Could we solve our energy problems and flooding problems down county in one move with a bold reinvestment in infrastructure? Would it be folly to explore the power of water here? Would the folly be greater than that of exploding atoms? Why can’t Ossining and Croton, for example, determine their own fate and do what Fairport did?

Here is what I think we can all agree on but seldom discuss: Let’s put a little less energy on decrying whether the problem is a problem or not, and put a little more thought and energy on viable, sustainable alternatives. The vast majority of people, so long as they get light, recharge their iPhones, and can scream at Nick Swisher on TV, would be just fine with a new solution.