City & State: “Meeting Tough Federal Carbon Requirements”

Meeting Tough Federal Carbon Requirements

By: John Kelly
October 1, 2015

The Clean Power Plan is a bold new initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

New York has one of the country’s cleanest electricity generating portfolios. But we still have significant challenges to address if we’re to meet these guidelines without spiking electricity costs or compromising reliability.

Over the past decade, New York has not only maintained, but has also increased the proportion of our power sources that generate clean energy. The average state gets 40 percent of its electricity by burning high-carbon coal; in New York, this figure is just 3 percent.

Natural gas comprises 40 percent of New York’s energy supply, versus only 26 percent for the rest of the nation; nuclear power, 32 percent versus 20 percent; and hydroelectric, 19 percent versus 6 percent. As we look towards the goal of a cleaner environment, nuclear and hydroelectric plants emit zero carbon, while natural gas burned in new high efficiency plants emits about half the carbon of coal.

If any of New York’s six nuclear power plants, which provide 32 percent of the state’s electricity, were to close our carbon reduction costs and challenges would rise significantly. Today— and for the foreseeable future—most of such replacement power would need to come from natural gas.

Let’s take Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County as an example: if this plant were to close, it’s 2,000 megawatts of clean power would likely be replaced by new gas burning plants, resulting in the release of an additional seven million or more tons of carbon dioxide in New York per year. Furthermore, replacing nuclear power and more polluting fossil fuels with natural gas will come at a high cost that will be passed on to already hard-pressed ratepayers.

Renewables are becoming ever more important. Developing them requires significant investment. It’s important that these funds come strictly from the private sector, not from taxpayers or ratepayers, in an open and transparent competitive process.

It’s also crucial that we update New York’s transmission grid, to assure reliability and allow renewable power, in particular, to be efficiently distributed throughout the state.

The Clean Power Plan poses an enormous challenge. By working together we can help New York maintain its environmental leadership while protecting the wallets of hardworking New Yorkers who deserve to have affordable and reliable electricity.

John Kelly is a certified health physicist and retired as director of licensing for Entergy Nuclear Northeast. He worked in the nuclear industry for 40 years, including at Indian Point Energy Center and other nuclear plants in the Northeast.