Indian Point  supports southeast New York state electric grid AND natural gas reliability—and protects public health

By Gene A. Nelson, Ph.D. May 17, 2020

1. Introduction

As air-pollution-free Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) is shut down (a consequence of a voluntary mandate of the State of New York) without obtaining emission-free replacements , southeast New York state fossil-fuel combustion must increase substantially, increasing air pollution. (Note:  In 2017, Indian Point generated more than 1/3 of the power generated in southeast – or downstate – New York state.)

There are adverse public health consequences for the residents of southeast New York state associated with this increased air pollution. The increase in air pollution contributes to higher mortality associated with respiratory diseases like COVID-19. Here’s an overview map for downstate New York (southeast NY state) with COVID-19 mortality rates per 100,000 for April 15, 2020 calculated based on New York State Department of Health (NYSDoH) statistics. The NYSDoH created the map. Indian Point is located in Buchanan, NY, in the northwest corner of Westchester County.

The National Weather Service – NOAA graciously provided surface wind direction statistics for a recent 30 year period at La Guardia Airport, near the end of the arrow pointing to Queens on the above map. Those winds tended to blow variously from the southwest and south-southwest. Thus, the air pollution associated with dual-fuel electric generators such as Ravenswood and Astoria in Queens and East River in Manhattan is blown into the Bronx, which shows the highest COVID-19 mortality rate at 129 per 100,000 as of April 15, 2020 on the above map of the eight downstate counties. The Bronx population is 1,432,132 so the May 17, 2020 Bronx COVID-19 death toll of 3,293 almost doubles the death rate there to 230 per 100,000. With the exception of the Bronx , counties more distant (or upwind) from Manhattan have cleaner air and lower COVID-19 mortality rates. As of May 17, 2020 the eight counties in downstate New York accounted for almost 1/4 of our nation’s COVID-19 deaths. These mortality statistics reflect likely undercounts. Per a May 11, 2020 CDC report based on New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) estimates, as of May 2, 2020 there were 5,293 excess NYC deaths. ….The 5,293 excess deaths not identified as confirmed or probable COVID-19–associated deaths might have been attributable or indirectly attributable to the pandemic….[1]

2. Indian Point supports regional electric grid reliability and natural supply gas reliability

Zero-air-pollution Indian Point generated 15,304 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2017. In more commonly-used units, this is 15.304 billion kilowatt-hours, almost the annual power production of the huge zero-emission Robert Moses hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls, NY. As a consequence of New York state politics, Indian Point did not receive the modest subsidy, or zero-emissions credit (ZEC) that one larger nuclear power plant (Nine Mile Point) and two smaller nuclear power plants receive in northern New York state. (On a per kilowatt hour basis, New York’s ZEC is a small fraction of the total subsidies provided to New York solar and wind generators. ) Furthermore, Indian Point’s power is available 24/7, 365 days a year, day or night, wind or calm, flood or drought, so it does not require fossil fuel to compensate for intermittent generation. Extremely large amounts of fossil fuel must be burned in an inefficient, stop-and-start fashion to compensate for the unavoidabable intermittency of solar and wind, calling into question the net environmental benefit of solar and wind. This criticism of solar and wind is long-known and was also raised in Michael Moore’s April, 2020 documentary, “Planet of the Humans.”

Despite the environmental harm, operators of fossil-fired power plants that compensate for the intermittency of New York solar and wind receive significant payments to provide a reliable electric supply. On the other hand, neither nuclear power plants nor large hydroelectric plants receive reliability payments – another illogical consequence of New York state politics. Solar and wind power advocates often tout energy storage as a means to compensate for the significant intermittency of both of those generation means. Despite New York state being a pioneer in the use of hydroelectric pumped storage (HPS,) HPS has been too expensive and causes environmental harms such as fish kills. HPS makes a minuscule contribution to the New York state power mix, with the largest plant (Lewiston) producing 1/34 of Indian Point’s 2017 generation. Battery Electric Storage (BES) is another suggested workaround for solar and wind intermittency. BES is too small by orders of magnitude and is far more expensive per kilowatt-hour than HPS. The lithium-based batteries are plagued by short lifetimes of 7 to 10 years and a tendency to cause difficult-to-extinguish battery fires with toxic fumes under heavy use conditions.

A significant issue is the “heat rate” of Indian Point’s fossil-fired replacement generation. The heat rate is the amount of heat energy required to generate a megawatt-hour (1,000 kilowatt-hours) of electricity. Since the thermodynamic efficiency of modern fossil-fired generation plants is only about 30%, the heat energy required (in MMBTUs – millions of BTUs) are substantial. On an annual basis, electric generation equal to about 2 1/2 Hoover Dam Units (HDUs) of Indian Point generation was taken off-line by the voluntary action of New York state on April 30, 2020. That means in downstate New York state, more than 2 1/2 * 3 or 7.5 HDUs of additional fossil fuel will now be combusted to generate electricity during the next 12 months to compensate for the loss of half of Indian Point, with a total of 15 HDUs required for each subsequent 12 months if Indian Point closes.

This increased fossil-fired combustion may also be determined by examining the fossil fuel consumption of the fourteen (14) dual-fuel power plants in southeast New York state in 2017 to generate the 41,191 GWh of electricity required in downstate New York. In 2017, emission-free Indian Point generated 37.2% of the 2017 downstate New York generation. Projecting the fuel consumption to 2022 when Indian Point is scheduled to be completely shut down shows the huge quantity of fossil fuel required. Referring to figure 2, the projected increase in fossil fuel use is 159% of the amount of fossil fuel burned in these 14 dual-fuel power plants in 2017. To place 41,191 GWh in perspective, NYSERDA in 2019 showed total New York state electricity generation in 2016 was 160,798 GWh, so downstate generation in 2017 was 25.6% of the 2016 total New York state generation. [2]

Electric system reliability is required so that residential customers can use fossil fuel energy to heat or cool their residences. Electric system reliability is also required to meet such critical loads as powering hospitals and first responder infrastructure, as well as the significant electricity requirements for refrigeration. Almost all of the power plants in southeast New York state are dual fuel plants. In order to provide a reliable supply of electricity during summer heat waves and winter polar vortices, AND to protect the reliability of the natural gas distribution system, those plants will be burning considerably more natural gas and fuel oil between now and April 30, 2021 when IP unit 3 is scheduled to be turned off. If IP Unit 3 is turned off, even more natural gas and fuel oil will be required to compensate for the loss of Indian Point’s emission-free power. Dual-fuel power plants store large quantities of fuel oil on premises so they are able to generate electricity (albeit with significantly increased air pollution) when natural gas pipeline delivery constraints into downstate New York prevent an adequate supply of natural gas, which is too bulky to be stored in or near power generation plants.

Recent downstate generator additions include the two CPV dual-fuel generators at Waywanda, NY with a total nameplate capacity of 770 MW and three Cricket Valley natural-gas-fired generators in Dover, NY with a total nameplate capacity of 1,176.9 MW. Planned new downstate fossil-fired generators include NRG Berrains East at 465 MW in 2023, Danskammer Energy Center at 615 MW in 2023, and the Gowanus Gas Turbine at 710 MW in 2024. [3]

3. Indian Point protects downstate natural gas system reliability by displacing large amounts of natural gas-fired generation

Natural gas system reliability must be maintained to prevent building explosions when natural gas pilot lights go out after the natural gas delivery pressure goes too low. (A small, but nonzero fraction of the installed natural gas safety systems will malfunction and allow natural gas to flow into a building once the natural gas system is re-pressurized. Once the natural gas accumulates to a flammable concentration inside a building, any spark within the building will explosively ignite the lighter-than-air natural gas.) If Indian Point is closed, the natural gas supply reliability benefit of Indian Point must be replaced with an increased reliance on highly-polluting fuel-oil-powered electricity generation.

There is already evidence that the natural gas supply into southeast New York State is supply -constrained.  Emergency evacuations of National Grid natural gas customers in Newport, Rhode Island  during a recent cold snap are one example. [4] Another example is National Grid’s lobbying to bring a billion+ dollar undersea NESE natural gas pipeline with a total length of 37 miles from Pennsylvania into Long Island which was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on May 3, 2019. [5] New York and New Jersey state approval of this natural gas pipeline was still pending as of the writing of the article. FERC was apparently swayed by the claim the NESE pipeline would displace 900,000 barrels of fuel oil per year for heating. However, that argument ignores the substantial fugitive methane associate with natural gas released between the wellhead and the burner tip. Some sources estimate the methane leakage at 3% of consumption. Since methane is about 70 times as potent as a greenhouse gas as CO2 for the first decade, this means so-called clean natural gas is about as harmful from a climate change perspective as is combusting coal.

4. There are chronic and acute public health harms associated with replacing emission-free Indian Point with natural-gas-fired and fuel-oil-fired generation.

As can be seen in figure 3, the eight counties in downstate New York dominate the nation’s COVID-19 mortality by county. The total for the eight counties is close to half of the top 25 counties in the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard. Furthermore, the total for the eight counties accounts for roughly one quarter of all United States COVID-19 deaths. While COVID-19 mortality has a number of contributing factors including poverty and living in crowded/substandard living quarters, chronic and acute exposure to air pollution is clearly one of the causes. Yvonne Abraham summarizes this information in her recent Boston Globe article regarding Chelsea, Massachusetts. [6] Figure 3 shows Chelsea is in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, one of the top-25 counties for COVID-19 mortality.

The U.S. EPA’s 2014 National Air Toxics report to Congress highlights the health risks of New York City air pollution from stationary sources such as the 14 downstate New York dual-fuel power plants tabulated above in Figure 2.   Per page 52 of 139   …In addition, the 2005 (National Air Toxics Assessment) NATA results showed that the risks in largest (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) MSAs resulted from a combination of multiple source emissions. As shown in Exhibit 3-9, stationary sources in one large CBSA (similar to MSA), New York City, contributed about half (48%) of the total risk. [7]

Here’s some excerpts from the 2011 NYC DOHMH report documenting some of the health harms to people who work and/or reside in New York City.

From the introduction on page 4, ….In this report, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used methods developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to estimate the impact of air pollution on the numbers of deaths, hospital admissions and emergency department visits caused by exposure to PM2.5 and ozone at current concentrations in New York City.

Health Department estimates show that each year, PM2.5 pollution in New York City causes more than 3,000 deaths, 2,000 hospital admissions for lung and heart conditions, and approximately 6,000 emergency department visits for asthma in children and adults. A modest reduction of 10% in current PM2.5 levels could prevent more than 300 premature deaths, 200 hospital admissions and 600 emergency department visits annually, while attaining the goal of “cleanest air of any big city” would result in even greater public health benefits (Table 1)..

From the discussion on page 37, …..Why are these results important for New Yorkers? While the city’s air quality has improved in recent decades, air pollution causes (conservatively) 6% of annual deaths in the city each year, making it one of the most significant environmental health problems. Furthermore, air quality improvements will have significant and immediate health benefits at a scale second only to reductions in smoking rates, among recent city initiatives. To reduce the toll from air pollution, actions are needed to address important local sources, such as motor vehicle exhaust, building heating oil and aging power plants with outmoded technology (emphasis added) .[8]

Finally, an April 17, 2020 New York Times article provides a summary of a new Harvard University study connecting higher levels of COVID-19 mortality to a patient’s history of exposure to elevated levels of air pollution. [9] The corresponding author of the Harvard University study is Francesca Domenici, Ph.D. and the preprint version of the paper is available for review. [10]

The above sources support the perspective that replacing the safe, abundant reliable, cost-effective, and zero-emission power output of Indian Point with fossil-fired generation in downstate New York will diminish public health and worsen public welfare. There will be the chronic increase in air pollution from burning very large additional quantities of natural gas. Furthermore, when there are winter polar vortices or summer heat waves, the delivery constraints of the natural gas pipeline system supplying the greater New York City area will require that considerably more highly-polluting fuel oil be burned in the 14 “dual fuel” power plants in downstate New York, causing acute air pollution harms. The preventable human toll, as measured by increased respiratory sickness and increased death tolls from respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 should make a clear public health case for keeping Indian Point open. However, unless residents of downstate New York state make this situation politically untenable for leaders such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, [11] this grim future is inevitable.

Conclusion: To protect downstate New York state public health and welfare, Indian Point 2 should be re-commissioned and IPEC’s operating license should be extended to the standard 20-year NRC relicensing interval instead of the shortened interval demanded by New York State. Furthermore, aging “dual fuel” power plants such as Ravenswood and Astoria should be decommissioned in accordance with the recommendations in the conclusion of the May, 2011 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report cited in footnote 8.


[1]Preliminary Estimate of Excess Mortality During the COVID-19 Outbreak — New York City, March 11 – May 2, 2020 by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) COVID-19 Response Team, CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Early Release / Vol. 69, May 11, 2020.

[2]. Patterns and Trends New York Energy Profiles: 2002–2016 Final Report, January 2019, New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA), Albany, NY.  Page 10 of 98 shows 2016 New York state electricity generation was 160,798 GWh.

[3].  New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) 2020 Load and Capacity Data Gold Book, Albany, NY.  Table III-2 Existing Generating Facilities: CPV Valley and Cricket Valley at page 81 of 146. Table IV-1 Proposed Generator additions & CRIS Requests as of March 15, 2020. NRG Berrians East, Danskammer Energy Center, and Gowanus Gas Turbine on pages 110-111.

[4]Newport, R.I., suffers through days-long natural gas outage, by Michael Levenson and Matt Rocheleau, The Boston Globe, January 25, 2019, 10:05 p.m.

[5]  FERC approves Transco’s Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) gas pipe project, by Maya Weber and Jasmin Melvin, May 3, 2019, S&P Global Market Intelligence. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC won certificate approval Friday from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its Northeast Supply Enhancement natural gas pipeline project, which would add 400 MMcf / d (400,000 MMBTu/day) of incremental supply into New York markets and potentially place downward pressure on Transco Zone 6 pricing.

[6]In Chelsea, the deadly consequences of air pollution Coronavirus isn’t just a health crisis in Chelsea. It’s also an environmental one, by Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe Columnist, Updated April 29, 2020.

[7]National Air Toxics Program: The Second Integrated Urban Air Toxics Report to Congress, EPA-456/R-14-001, August 21, 2014, U.S. EPA, Research Triangle Park, NC. Author listing on pages 4 and 5 of 139.

[Note: Per Wikipedia, A core-based statistical area (CBSA) is a U.S. geographic area defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that consists of one or more counties (or equivalents) anchored by an urban center of at least 10,000 people plus adjacent counties that are socioeconomically tied to the urban center by commuting. Areas defined on the basis of these standards applied to Census 2000 data were announced by OMB in June 2003. These standards are used to replace the definitions of metropolitan areas that were defined in 1990. The OMB released new standards based on the 2010 Census on July 15, 2015.]

[8]Air Pollution and the Health of New Yorkers: The Impact of Fine Particles and Ozone, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Queens, NY, Dr. Thomas D. Matte, Science Advisor, May, 2011 (40 pages.)  Several of the maps shown in this 2011 publication highlight the regionality of increased respiratory harms from PM2.5 and ozone in Bronx County, similar to the mortality by county map shown in the introductory section.

[9]New Research Links Air Pollution to Higher Coronavirus Death Rates, by Lisa Friedman, Published April 7, 2020 Updated April 17, 2020, The New York Times.

[10]Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: A nationwide cross-sectional study, revised April 29, 2020, Xiao Wu, doctoral student; Rachel C Nethery, assistant professor; Benjamin Sabath, data scientist; Danielle Braun, research scientist; Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble professor of biostatistics, population, and data science, Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, 02115, USA.

[11]. A former top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Joseph Percoco and Lobbyist Todd Howe were found guilty in federal court of accepting bribes from natural gas interests (Competitive Power Ventures ) to advocate for closure of Indian Point.   Here are additional details:

New York deals setback to $900M power plant in Joe Percoco corruption case, by Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau Rockland/Westchester Journal News  (LOHUD,) August 3, 2018.

Joseph Percoco, Former Executive Aide And Campaign Manager To N.Y. Governor, Convicted Of Accepting More Than $300,000 In Bribes, March 13, 2018 Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice, Southern District of New York,

Prosecution’s star witness in Percoco trial mocked disabled pal, By Priscilla DeGregory and Bruce Golding, February 14, 2018, The New York Post.

CPV Ramped up Lobbying over 400% To Protect Fracked Gas Plant Amidst Percoco Scandal, by Derek Seidman, April 23, 2018.

The Percoco Connection, by Derek Seidman, April 23, 2018.


Further Reading

  1. It Sounds Crazy, But Fukushima, Chernobyl, And Three Mile Island Show Why Nuclear Is Inherently Safe, by Michael Shellenberger, March 11, 2019, Forbes Energy Blog,
  2. Minuscule contributions of New York solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency per Thomas C. Congdon NY-PSC Executive Deputy slide shown at Cortland Town Hall presentation, September 25, 2019 – See below Figure 4.

  1. Photo essay highlighting the oil storage and oil barges at Ravenswood, including the two new large tanks not shown in the older Google satellite view of Ravenswood.