ALBANY, New York—For years, many Westchester County residents and elected officials clamored for the Indian Point nuclear power plant to be shut down, citing what they said was the untenable risk it posed in an area as populated as greater New York City.
But since January, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans for just such a shutdown, attention has turned to the devilish details.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Democratic and Republican lawmakers sought reassurances from state energy officials, the plant’s owner and others that the closing would not disrupt the state’s power supply or be financially ruinous to local communities.
The hearing touched on issues, such as energy reliability, lost jobs, the affect on the area’s property-tax base and how spent fuel on the site would be stored.
In painstaking testimony, top energy officials led lawmakers through descriptions of evolving energy markets and technologies and the complexities of how power is delivered around the state.
Mostly, officials tried to placate legislators by citing the planned four-year schedule for closing the plant, while noting that some plants around the country had closed in as little as four months.
“The benefit of the agreement is that it gives us a number of years to look at a whole range of issues,” said Richard L. Kauffman, the state’s so-called energy czar.
As the hearing began, Cuomo’s office announced the creation of a task force to help the village, town and school district, which rely heavily on Indian Point tax revenue, with the transition. The task force, which includes representatives of 11 state agencies and state and local elected officials, will also be responsible for ensuring that Entergy, which owns the plant, complies with the terms of a shutdown agreement it reached with state.
The announcement’s timing could have been meant to blunt the criticisms of lawmakers asking questions at the hearing and some of the witnesses, including local officials, providing testimony.
In a statement, Cuomo, a Democrat, said, “The creation of this new task force will help ensure potential impacts on the local community will be minimized and that an open dialogue is maintained throughout this transition process.”
Indian Point, the closest nuclear power plant to New York City, could be shut as early as April 2021 under the shutdown agreement.
The agreement calls for one of Indian Point’s two reactors to permanently cease operating by April 2020; the other is to close a year later. The closing has been a chief goal for Cuomo, who had fought Entergy’s efforts for a new federal license. The plant has grappled with 40 safety and operational events and unit shutdowns in the past five years.
Indian Point, which is on the Hudson River in Buchanan, New York, supplies a good deal of inexpensive power to the New York area. It can generate more than 2,000 megawatts, about one-fourth of the energy consumed in New York City and Westchester.
State officials on Tuesday asserted that almost half the lost energy could be made up through efficiency programs and improved transmission. The other half, the officials said, would come from the private sector, with the state encouraging renewable, nonpolluting energy sources like wind, solar and hydropower.
Last year the state unveiled a clean-energy standard that requires half of New York’s electricity to come from renewable-energy sources by 2030.
“New York has had a really good history of power plants being built in response to demand,” said Audrey Zibelman, chairman of the state’s Public Service Commission. “The markets provide the economic signal that allow investors to invest. A number of generators said if there is a scarcity of supply, they’d move in. I’m not concerned about replacement power.”
Local legislators expressed the strongest concerns about the closing’s potential impact.
State Sen. Terrence Murphy, a Republican whose district includes Indian Point, asked Entergy officials pointed questions about the company’s commitment to help the plant’s 1,000 workers find new jobs.
Michael Twomey, Entergy’s vice president of external affairs, said the company would seek to move workers to several other nuclear plants it owns, mostly in the South, or retrain them for other utility jobs in New York.
Murphy also said he resented how the shutdown had been negotiated without local input.
“The optics of that are horrific,” he said while questioning Twomey. “I understand the reasons why you did that, but coming out with the devastating news in the newspaper, I believe it could have been rolled out differently.”
Kaufmann had explained earlier that the talks were kept confidential because they were meant to settle litigation brought against Entergy by the state and the environmental group Riverkeeper.
Others homed in on the issue of putting highly radioactive spent fuel into dry-cask storage on the plant’s site.
But Bruce A. Watson, chief of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s reactor decommissioning branch, said of such storage that “moving nuclear fuel is a routine operation at these plants.”
Late in the day, testimony turned personal, as local officials talked about their fears.
Theresa Knickerbocker, the mayor of Buchanan, said village residents worried that property taxes would skyrocket after the plant closed, forcing them to sell their homes. Nearly half of Buchanan’s operating budget is financed by revenue from the plant.
“It’s important to put a face on this problem,” said Knickerbocker, a fourth-generation Buchanan native.
Linda Puglisi, supervisor of the town of Cortlandt, which includes the plant, argued against the idea that the schedule for closing was generous.
“Three years goes by quickly—trust me,” she said. “It’s not a long time. We need to start planning immediately.”