Could solar help replace Indian Point generation?

The Indian Point Energy Center will close its two remaining nuclear reactors by 2021.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally fulfilled his previously impossible dream.

After 15 years, Cuomo has signed a deal to close the remaining two nuclear reactors at Indian Point Energy Center will close in four years – 14 years ahead of schedule. Indian Point supplies 2 GW of energy to New York City and Westchester County from its location 36 miles from Manhattan in Buchanan, N.Y., on the banks of the Hudson River.

Unfortunately, details on what the state plans to do to replace the 2 GW of power the plant supplies to New York City and Westchester County remain vague. Other than a promise to replace the 2 GW of power generation with renewables – reports suggest Cuomo wants to import hydro-generated electricity from Quebec and support wind farms – there is no clear plan in place about how to get there.

Though one might reasonably expect solar to play a role in the replacement, it received no mention yesterday.

As Robert Freudenberg, the director of energy and environmental programs for the Regional Plan Association told The New York Times: “There is currently not enough carbon-free energy in the pipeline to replace Indian Point. We feel that now the most urgent priority is that the state take all the steps necessary to ramp up the state’s renewable-energy supply.”

Cuomo bragged about the deal with Indian Point’s owners, Entergy, to close the plant in his regional State of the State address in Manhattan. He said New Yorkers can sleep better at night knowing that what he called a “ticking time bomb” would be out of service by 2021.

What makes the need for details urgent is that New York recently implemented a renewable-portfolio standard (RPS) that mandates utilities to produce 50% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The RPS’ aggressiveness is tied with California for the 3rd-most aggressive in the nation after Hawaii and Vermont.

The recent RPS revamp included “Zero-Emissions Credits,” which allowed upstate New York to keep its nuclear plants open. So it’s clear that while some nuclear plants are “ticking time bombs,” others are just fine with Cuomo.

For its part, Entergy says the decision to close the two remaining reactors early had little to do with Cuomo’s crusade. Instead, rising operational costs, combined with sharply falling costs for natural gas, made closing the plant early more attractive for the company.