Enviros Cheered New York For Shutting Down Huge Nuke Plant. Then Emissions Jumped

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Environmental activists celebrated the closure of a key nuclear power facility in New York state, but the state’s power sector emissions have increased in the years since the plant shuttered.

State officials finally closed the Indian Point nuclear facility in 2021, a development that climate activist groups commended because of purported safety and environmental risks posed by the facility. However, about three years after the plant shuttered, the state has seen a sharp increase in the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to power generation due in large part to increased reliance on natural gas to make up for the closed plant’s output, according to a March 2024 analysis conducted by JP Morgan.

“In 2020 and 2021, New York State shut down Indian Point’s nuclear plants with the intention of replacing its generation with renewable energy,” JP Morgan wrote in its analysis. “That’s not what has happened so far: three new natural gas plants (Bayonne Energy Center, CPV Valley Energy Center and Cricket Valley Energy Center) have filled the gap along with mostly gas-fired electricity imports from states like Pennsylvania.”

New York state has established goals of producing 70% of its electricity with green generation by 2030 and having its grid reach zero-emissions by 2040, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Proponents of the Indian Point closure frequently asserted that the retirement of zero-emissions nuclear generation presented a prime opportunity for green energy to step up in the void, but JP Morgan’s analysis demonstrates that natural gas and imports have plugged the gap much more than wind or solar, for example.

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This outcome is not the one that environmental activists cheering the plant’s closure expected.

“Once Indian Point is closed, we won’t need to rely on fossil fuels to make up for its energy. Peak demand in the region will have declined by more than the 2,000 megawatts the plant generates, and the replacement power will be carbon neutral as the State further increases its clean energy investments,” Paul Gallay, the president of Riverkeeper — an organization that was involved in the 2017 agreement to eventually shutter Indian Point — said in a statement after the agreement was finalized. “There will be little impact on electricity bills — between $1 and $2 dollars a month — which is a small price to pay for minimizing the risk that this plant poses. Going forward, new efficiency and renewable energy projects will drive still greater savings for consumers, thanks to aggressive energy investments by the state. It’s a new day for New York and the Metro region.”

Natural gas has largely filled in the supply gap opened by Indian Point’s retirement rather than the wind, solar and hydro power projects that officials planned to pick up the slack, the JP Morgan analysis demonstrates.

The change in New York’s energy profile has also altered the emissions intensity of its energy, especially the energy fueling New York City and Long Island, according to JP Morgan.

In 2019, before the plant was shut down, the power fueling New York City and Long Island emitted less than 600 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated, a figure well below the U.S. average and the average carbon intensity of electricity powering Texas, according to JP Morgan. At the end of 2022, the electricity flowing to New York City and Long Island emitted nearly 900 pounds of carbon dioxide per every MWh generated, significantly more than the averages of the U.S. writ large and of Texas.

“While Texas is more ‘red’ than New York City, it’s now more ‘green’ as well,” the JP Morgan report states.

The carbon intensity of the electricity keeping the lights on in New York state’s most densely-populated area is not the only metric to have increased since Indian Point shut down.

In March 2021, the month before officials shuttered Indian Point for good, electricity in New York City costed consumers about 15 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh) on average; as of December 2023, the average cost per KWh of electricity in New York City had increased to nearly 18 cents, according to data aggregated by Y Charts. That jump represents an increase of approximately 20%.

The New York Independent System Operator did not respond immediately to request for comment.

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