Replacing Indian Point and the Debate over Hydropower

Replacing Indian Point's energy share with low carbon options is a challenge and the State Legislature could look to block a promising option

Since the Westchester nuclear power plant Indian Point is closing soon, New York will have to choose an energy source to make up for its share of the load. The City is currently considering a few different options to replace Indian Point’s production in advance of its two reactors being decommissioned in 2020 and 2021. While the state says some of the lost power will be made up with gains in efficiency and rapidly expanding wind and solar generation along with battery storage are promising in the long run,  it will be a significant challenge to replace Indian Point in the short run without using more carbon intensive sources of power. One option that New York City and the New York Power Authority have been exploring is to temporarily purchase excess power from HydroQuebec, a hydropower utility located in Quebec, and transmit it downstate through the Champlain-Hudson Power Express (CHPE). 

The HydroQuebec option would connect the Canadian utility to a New York Power Authority (NYPA) substation located in NYC. NYPA currently holds a contract with the city to provide low-cost electricity to government agencies, municipalities, non-profits, and low-income housing units, so connecting to HydroQuebec would give NYPA the ability to buy Canadian hydropower, then sell it to the City at no profit.

Currently, a bill in the State Legislature could block NYPA’s access to HydroQuebec, A. 7685/S. 5126, by prohibiting NYPA from purchasing power from transmitted from outside the United States. They claim Indian Point’s lost energy production could be made up for by expanding the in-state power sources that already exist.

The City’s in-state power suppliers are currently Indian Point, fossil fuel fired power plants, and its growing renewable energy sector. NYLCV supports the expanding the City’s developing renewable sector, but cutting off the possibility of using Canadian hydopower would not accomplish that expansion. Instead, it would increase the City’s reliance on fossil fuels that cause climate change and air pollution.

Since most of the City’s energy is currently non-renewable, and developing renewables takes a long time, blocking HydroQuebec would encourage expanding the current fossil fuel-infused system to fill the upcoming market share. On the other hand, hydroelectric power is a renewable energy source that could prevent the City’s fossil fuel dependence from growing. Furthermore,  the New York Power Authority is well-positioned to judge the costs and environmental benefits of using the hydropower option, and whether or not the connection should move forward in the near future.

Some analyses suggest that until more renewable energy can come online, there will still be a shortage even with 1,000 MW of energy from HydroQuebec and increased natural gas consumption, which could drive prices even higher for consumers. In order to keep the City’s options open, and prevent a larger energy market share being taken by fossil fuels, NYLCV believes a measure to block NYPA’s potential involvement with HydroQuebec would be a mistake.