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Putting New York's Nuclear Power in Perspective

If the question is where will new electricity generation come from over the next 20 years, the answer is: Not from nuclear!

is a big topic in our region. So let's put our electricity sources into perspective. 

The total electricity generation capacity in New York State comes from three fuel sources: Fossil fuels (48% of total generation capacity); Nuclear (30%); Renewables (22%). 

Within fossil fuels, the main types in descending order of emissions per energy unit burned (from dirtiest to less dirty) are coal, petroleum oil, and natural gas.

New York is experiencing a positive trend within the fossil fuels as older, dirtier coal plants are retired and replaced with cleaner, higher efficiency natural gas plants. Among the three fossil fuel sources for electricity, the good new is the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas, is expanding, while the other dirtier sources are declining as a percent of the total generation capacity.

The gains in natural gas come from both new plants and repowering existing gas plants sites with much more efficient turbines, that burn the same volume of gas but produce more electricity per incoming therm.

Within nuclear sources, New York has no discernible room for expansion. The nuclear plants operate pretty at full capacity when they are not down for maintenance or refueling.

Another way to look at this is that nuclear power’s contribution to electricity generation in New York has peaked. Nuclear power will not be able to increase unless we decide to build an entirely new facility. 

The only new nuclear plant under construction in the United States is in Georgia. And that one is the first in 30 years to get the needed approvals and financial backing. So expanding nuclear to help us fuel our future seems very unlikely.

It is worth noting that the lights in Westchester do not go out when Indian Point is down for any reason.  Other fuel sources already cover for Entergy’s facility until it comes back on line.

Any growth in our economy that brings increased electric demand will have to get that power from sources other than nuclear. But there is good news on that front.

Renewables are actually increasing their share of our state’s generation capacity. In descending order of current generation capacity, the main renewable sources are hydropower, wind, and solar electric (photovoltaic).

The state has been upgrading a host of hydropower plants, particularly upstate along the St Lawrence River, with good success and without much fanfare.

In addition, wind power, especially in the central and western part of the state has been expanding steadily. 

In 2011, the state launched the largest ever incentives for commercial-scale photovoltaic installations on large customer’s rooftops in Westchester and New York City. This program will bear fruit in 2013 and beyond.

Then there is the fourth fuel source, energy efficiency ("EE") and conservation. EE is by far the cheapest fuel. For example, an upgrade of lighting in a commercial building can permanently lower the monthly utiliy bills and pay for itself within 2 or 3 years. 

We have tremendous potential to curb future electric demand growth by upgrading all kinds of equipment that hog electricity now, from lighting, to air compressor, pumps, and more.  We can also lower future demand by changing our behavior to avoid peak congestion.

Behavior change is already happening as work habits evolve under the economic recovery. More folks are telecommuting and work hours are no longer the usual “9 to 5.” 

In fact, the entire state’s projected demand for electricity has shrunk during the recession, buying us another 3 to 4 years to ramp up cleaner sources, including efficiency.

PS: You can look up more about the state’s grid and generation capacity in the NYISO's "2011 Gold Book." 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Thomas N May 21, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Leo, if other energy sources can cover IP if IP goes down, then why don't we switch over to those "other sources" right now? It's because it would cost us an arm and a leg. And I truly doubt that these "other sources" would provide the amount of power on such a consistent basis that IP does. The best thing that could happen is for NY to build a new nuclear power plant with the latest technology, such as a passive cooling system. This would create jobs, make energy cheaper, and allow businesses and individuals to cut expenses and grow the economy.
Leo Wiegman May 25, 2012 at 05:49 PM
@Tom R: (1) Thanks, I stand corrected: Other than the Vogtle project in Georgia, ground has been broken on just one other location for two 1,117 net megawatt nuclear units in South Carolina at SCANA's VC Summer existing nuclear plant. In March 2012, the NRC approved the construction license of the two proposed reactors at the Summer plant. Since then, the utility (SCE&G) has filed petitions with the SC Public Service Commission for "updated capital cost schedule and updated construction schedule," (translation: higher cost and longer schedule). (2) Nuclear power plants run at full boil 24/7 when they are "on." Therefore, nukes provide base load. I am suggesting that our region needs a broader mix of electricity sources.
Leo Wiegman May 25, 2012 at 06:16 PM
@Thomas N: Thanks, (1) Nuclear power is already very expensive, if we do a full accounting (from mining the uranium all the way storing the spent fuel). We have externalized these life cycle costs, so they don't show up on our monthly ConEdison bill. (2) Where would you put a new nuclear plant in NY? Keep in mind that both the new projects in GA and SC are located at existing nuclear sites for 2 very important reasons: these site already have access to cooling water (huge impound lakes) and to transmission station network. Building a lake and a huge substation network are super expensive projects. NY has very few existing nuclear power sites: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/map-power-reactors.html
damien June 22, 2012 at 07:15 AM
leo how would you feel about a big natural gas plant in your back yard?
Chris June 22, 2012 at 11:33 AM
(1) Nuclear power is expensive because of all the regulation and red tape when it comes to opening up a plant..... Also because one person deems nuclear energy expensive shouldn't stop a private business from building a plant.... If a private business is willing to risk the capital to build a facility then by default it is not to expensive when compared to ROI..... (2) the cost of the Mining of Uranium is on par with mining for precious metals (3) With technology that has been advanced over the last 30 years by the french. A new nuclear Plant can be powered by the already spent fuel rods used by the United States current nuclear technology... (4) There is a nice spot at indian point where a new nuclear reactor could go... Lets not forget that indian point at its peak had 3 nuclear reactors on the site (currently 2) Also all the fuel needed for this new plant is already on site.... And the caveat is these new Nuclear plants use 90% of the spent fuel rods..... leaving only 1/10 of the nuclear waste...

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