Solving New York’s Electricity Crunch

By Matthew Brennan, Candidate for United States Congress in District 17
October 25, 2004

New Yorkers pay the highest electrical rates in the continental United States. To solve this problem, New York should seriously consider building more nuclear power plants.

But despite that, the only electric power plan New York Congressman Elliot Engel has offered is a call to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant, a position that, if adopted, would create a severe power shortage for his constituents.

For the local population, Engel's number one transgression has to be his blatant inaction regarding the building of a national storage facility for the spent nuclear fuel from Indian Point and the other 100 active nuclear reactors in this nation. In 1982, Congress passed a bill requiring that electricity users pay a tiny surcharge on electricity generated by nuclear power. Over $25 billion dollars has been collected. This money was intended to be used to build a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. The proposed facility -- at Yucca Mountain, Nevada --was supposed to be completed by 1998. Construction has still not started.

Engel sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But he has done nothing to encourage the building of the storage facility. And without it ­ or another similar facility elsewhere -- Indian Point has no place to safely and permanently dispose of the used fuel.

In the last four years of press releases ­ he sends out about two per week -- Engel has said nothing about Yucca Mountain. In March 2004, the congressional energy subcommittee had a hearing on Yucca Mountain. A review of the transcripts confirms Engel’s lack of participation.

Instead Engel has chosen to terrorize the local population with irresponsible rhetoric to "close Indian Point. " If this happened New York would lose the 2,000 megawatts generated by Indian Point and face a severe power shortage.

New York State's peak demand for 2004 is 32,000 megawatts. It increases almost 400 megawatts a year. The New York State Independent System Operators have said the state will need an additional 5,000 megawatts in the next five years. This will require $5 billion for new transmission lines.

Not providing this expansion can have serious consequences. In California, municipalities did not maintain their local electric power grids and became dependent on out-of-state electric producers. Utter chaos resulted when their prices became prohibitive. This led to the recall of the then governor, Gray Davis.

We are heading down the same road ­ a road with no traffic signals. In the next decade, electricity will be so expensive that the struggling middle class will be disenfranchised from it. We certainly cannot count on having enough cheap electricity in our region to sustain an economic recovery

The next generation of electricity production will be small 100-megawatt pebble bed reactors. Cooled with helium, the byproduct will be hydrogen that can power fuel cells. We will then have a hydrogen-based economy.

But that is a bit in the future. For the next 30 years we need more power production. And the 100 miles of Hudson River between New York City and Albany is the perfect place to build power plants. We should utilize this natural resource.

We have the technology to make electricity less expensive. But some of our politicians are proposing measures that would make it more expensive.

The cost of decommissioning Indian Point, for example, would be over $1 billion dollars.

Engel also thinks consumer should pay over $1 billion for huge cooling towers to save Hudson River fish eggs. Depending upon the weather, these towers will be huge snow or fog machines. The Hudson River makes a sharp turn at Indian Post. The tower could create a visibility problem that might cause a fuel oil tanker to run aground. Screens save enough of the fish we cannot eat anyway because of PCB pollution.

Instead of utilities’ increasing production, Engel thinks the consumer should limit demand. He does not seem to realize that the emerging economies of China and India are seriously affecting the worldwide demand for energy. These rapidly industrializing nations will use anything we could possibly save -- and much more.

Engel also thinks windmills and solar panels can make up the difference. But we all know that in this part of the world the wind does not blow every day and neither does the sun shine. These "ecologically friendly" methods of electrical generation will not pay for themselves and or generate the mass quantities of electricity that our demand requires.

Alternative energy policies only make us feel good about ourselves. At this time, they are not realistic. They are a waste of time and money that should be spent on building more power plants.

But there are dangers to conventional energy as well. The generation of power makes the utility industry the number one air polluter in the country. Most of the lakes in New York State are devoid of fish life because of acid rain.

Global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is beyond crisis stage. According to a shocking report issued by the Pentagon, the damage is already done. A drastic disruption of the world’s weather patterns is inevitable in our near future.

Last year, a record heat wave in Europe was blamed for the deaths of 25,000 people. With melting ice caps causing rising seas, the fresh water has interfered with the movement of salt water ultimately affecting the Earth's prevailing winds. This drastic worldwide change in our environment will create anarchy with regard to water and food supplies.

Until we have the technology to change from an oil-based to a hydrogen-based economy, nuclear power is the cleanest way to go. It takes the burning of 80,000 barrels of oil a day ­ at more than $50 a barrel -- to match the energy Indian Point produces.

Eighty percent of France's electricity is produced with nuclear energy. Of the United States’ 700,000 megawatts of power production, only 20 percent is nuclear. Yucca Mountain must be built so that nuclear power can be utilized to its fullest potential. People truly concerned with the environment should be angry with Congressman Engel for his inaction on this vital issue.

Matthew Brennan is the Republican candidate for U.S. Congress from New York’s 17th District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.

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