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Short on energy: Cuomo’s mistaken Indian Point closure is hurting the state’s renewable energy goals

In a report issued this week, New York State admitted that it would not meet the goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030, a deadline mandated by a 2019 climate law. Officials now expect that plank not to be reached until 2033. Blame the man who signed that climate law, Andrew Cuomo.

It was the former governor who teamed up with short-sighted environmental activists to close down the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester, which provided 25% of the region’s electricity.

In what is one of the cruel ironies of our warming environment, energy needs themselves are stretched by the increased consumption necessary to ward off the impact that climate change is already having. More heat that starts earlier and ends later means air conditioners running longer and harder, straining the grid and making it more difficult to actually achieve these energy targets. It takes more green energy capacity to reach the same percentage of energy consumption if there is more consumption overall.

On the flip side, rising costs have helped derail multiple renewable energy projects, like offshore wind, that would have gone a long way towards helping the state meet its targets. Yes, the upfront costs are very significant, but in the long term we all benefit not just from the lower emissions but the green energy jobs boom and energy independence that these projects provide, which is why the state should double down on encouraging them.

One thing that certainly set us back was the closing of Indian Point. Its closure was green in concept but not at all in execution, which is a recurring problem with political efforts to encourage more environmentally-friendly energy (the inverse being opposition to actually green projects like wind farms on account of them supposedly ruining views and property values). Yes, nuclear energy has its own dirty byproducts in the form of radioactive spent fuel, but with the proper storage and management, this doesn’t just leak out into the environment or pose a health hazard.

Public attitudes were warped by perceptions of nuclear as dangerous, both on account of its associations with the destructive side of nuclear weapons and highly-publicized incidents like the Chernobyl meltdown. But the technology and practices that failed in Chernobyl were already outdated by the time that the disaster happened almost 40 years ago. Today, nuclear power is safe and very effective, and certainly far cleaner than burning oil or natural gas.

The last of Indian Point’s reactors went offline just months before Cuomo himself was driven from office by scandals. Now, it seems like Cuomo is hoping to make a comeback; as he does, he should have to answer for making New York City and its suburbs lose 25% of its generating power. And also be held to account for helping set back New York’s energy objectives by pandering to activists who were more concerned about the optics of clean energy than the energy itself.

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine a nuclear plant of Indian Point’s scale coming back online in the near term, given the enormous capital costs and complexity of the undertaking, but we’re pleased that the last couple of years have seen some discussion of smaller nuclear reactors opening in the state. Let’s have more nuclear, more solar, more wind. We all reap the benefits.


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