In 2007, when Hillary Clinton was New York's junior senator, she sagely observed that a "steady drumbeat of problems has eroded public confidence in Indian Point," the twin-reactor nuclear power plant just outside New York City.
In the time since Clinton left New York to become Secretary of State, Indian Point has become far more dangerous and the supply of energy available to replace it has grown sufficiently to enable its safe and affordable closure. Against this backdrop, when Sec. Clinton was asked recently what to do about Indian Point, she cited her long-standing concerns on plant safety and call for a “careful, thoughtful" approach.
Given the facts on the ground, the careful, thoughtful approach to Indian Point is to close it.
New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, recently put it best when he observed that Indian Point can no longer operate “in a manner that protects public safety and the environment." The record of accidents, malfunctions and mishaps at Indian Point in just the last year is astonishing and unprecedented.
Late last month, 227 of the 832 bolts that hold the inner walls of the reactor core together were found to be missing or damaged. The plant's owner, Entergy, in a report to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) admitted this to be a condition that “significantly degrades plant safety." Indeed, this damage to Indian Point Reactor 2's core is four times worse than any similar problem ever seen at any other American nuclear reactor and experts believe that it could result in a lack of structural stability in the reactor.
And, we're just getting started, folks. In February, radioactivity in the groundwater near the plant spiked more than 100,000 percent after a leak from a refueling system. Also in February, the same reactor with all those degraded bolts temporarily lost cooling capacity, due to a series of electrical problems.
Other problems since May 2015: a transformer explosion and major oil spill; a water pump failure, which set off one of the plant's seven unplanned shutdowns in the past 12 months; a blocked drain, causing temporary flooding in the “switchgear" room that contains key plant safety equipment; and, a power failure affecting control rods in Reactor 3, caused by bird droppings shorting out a power line at the plant.
The NRC has reported that one of Indian Point's reactors has the highest risk of all the country's reactors of being damaged by an earthquake and a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense shows that Indian Point is incredibly vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Tens of millions of people live within the reach of an Indian Point nuclear disaster. An evacuation would be practically impossible and emergency responses have been found to be largely futile.
We understand that malfunctions can happen at any power plant, but they are happening with disturbing frequency at Indian Point. Its age is problematic and the licenses for its two reactors expired in 2013 and 2015; the NRC is still weighing whether to renew them. This is the same NRC that Barack Obama, in 2007, called a “moribund agency" that was a captive of the industry it regulated.
It still looks that way today. The NRC apparently accepts the word of Indian Point's operator, Entergy, that basic safety and environmental cleanup measures aren't necessary, even after the latest mishaps. The commission even permits Indian Point to evade its own safety standards requiring that the electrical cables that control emergency reactor shutdowns have insulation that would last 60 minutes in a fire—giving the plant an exemption after finding that this insulation lasted just 27 minutes.
In view of the astonishingly bad track record Indian Point has compiled, it's no surprise that a 2015 poll in the Lower Hudson Valley found that a majority of respondents do not trust the plant's safety or its operator, despite the thousands of supportive votes that were sent right from Entergy's own computer server.
The good news is: we have enough power capacity to permit the immediate closure of Indian Point. Indian Point is able to generate just more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity or about 10 percent of peak summer demand in the New York metropolitan area. In the past two years, we've added an additional 1,500 megawatts of energy capacity from other sources: existing electricity surpluses in New York State, recently restored power generation from plants in the Hudson Valley and New York City, together with transmission improvements in the power grid in the lower Hudson Valley and targeted energy efficiency gains by Con Edison.
And, according to the New York Independent System Operator, a nonprofit agency charged with managing the state's electricity market, downstate load forecasts for this summer have dropped by about 500 megawatts, since previous estimates in 2015, due to increases in solar power installations, energy efficiency and demand-side management.
Projections for future electricity demand have declined sharply in recent years.
In short, we can close Indian Point now and reliably keep the lights on. In the future, new efficiency and renewable energy projects will drive still greater savings, thanks to $5 billion in planned energy investments by the state.
And, the cost will be minimal. In 2012, we reported that it would cost the average household less than $15 per year to transition to safe, sustainable energy. Last month, Con Edison Solutions contracted to supply up to 90,000 homes in Westchester with wind, solar and hydropower at prices that will be at least $21 per year lower than what these homes are currently paying for nuclear or fossil fuel energy.
As with her evolving position on fracking, it's time for Secretary Clinton to get tougher on Indian Point. In view of just how dangerous Indian Point has become and how readily available replacement energy has become, closing Indian Point is just the “careful, thoughtful" thing to do.
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Installing solar panels is a great option for homeowners who want to reduce their power bills, and the payback period can be just a handful of years with favorable conditions. However, renters and apartment owners cannot use a typical solar power system due to the lack of space, and renters in particular must also negotiate with their landlords. A miniature solar system that is portable and easy to install can be a better option in these cases.
Rooftop solar systems can greatly reduce your electric bills, and you can add solar batteries to store solar energy for use at night. However, because most systems are tied to the power local grid, you must meet many technical requirements and get a permit to put solar on your property. The initial investment and paperwork are not a problem when installing solar panels in a home you own, but they're a limiting factor for renters.
If you don't own your home or apartment, you may have little incentive to invest in improving someone else's property. Even if your landlord gives you permission to install solar panels, the decision only makes sense financially if you plan to rent for a very long time — longer than the solar payback period. Also, consider the following factors:
- When your lease ends, your landlord may not be willing to purchase the solar panels you installed.
- Moving rooftop solar panels to another home is difficult, and you will need a professional installation and another permit for the new property.
There are many types of miniature solar systems that can be installed without the complex requirements and permitting procedures of more permanent structures. These systems are an excellent option for renters, since taking them to another property is as simple as relocating your TV.
Solar Benefits for Non-Homeowners
Solar panel systems offer a common benefit, regardless of their size: they generate electricity from sunlight, reducing the amount of electricity you must pay your utility company for each month. Solar power also lowers the environmental footprint of your home, especially if you live in a region where most of the grid electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Homeowners get a few extra benefits when they install a traditional solar system, including:
- Their property becomes more valuable, and many states don't charge increased property taxes for the portion of home value that corresponds to solar panels.
- Homeowners also qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit as well as any additional incentives from state governments or utility companies.
- There are permitting and grid connection requirements to meet, but once the solar PV system starts operating, it provides electricity for decades with minimal maintenance.
While mini solar panel systems may not be eligible for these perks, they have their benefits compared with rooftop systems. For example, they are much easier to install, with no permitting involved, and any maintenance is much simpler. Small-scale solar systems also have a lower price, and they are easily relocated.
The power bill savings achieved by a rooftop solar system are much higher, but that's because they're much larger. Many homeowners use solar PV systems that have capacities at or above 6 kW (6,000 W), while miniature systems often only generate up to 100 W. As you might expect, the corresponding cost of solar panels is very different: A 6 kW solar system can cost around $18,000 (before incentives) to install, while a miniature 100 W system might cost less than $300. However, each dollar invested is earned back multiple times over in both cases.
How to Utilize Solar Energy When You Rent
There are several options for renters who want to use solar power. These include:
- Plug-in mini solar systems
- Off-grid solar and battery systems
- Portable solar panels
- DIY solar setups
- Appliance-specific solar panels
Plug-in mini solar systems work exactly like rooftop PV systems — they connect to your residence's wiring and synchronize with the voltage and frequency of your grid power — just at a smaller scale. The power generated by a plug-in mini system is usually enough to power several electronic devices and LED bulbs, but not high-power devices like air conditioners and washing machines.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a solar plug-in mini system is right for your rental property:
- Plug-and-play solar panels are not subject to the permitting requirements and interconnection procedures of a traditional rooftop installation, and they can be simply connected to a suitable power outlet.
- NOTE: When using plug-in solar panels, you must make sure that the power outlet used has a circuit with enough capacity to carry the current, as well as an adequate breaker. Otherwise, you can cause an electrical fault.
- Because this type of panel connects to the electrical system of the property, you should ask your landlord for permission before investing in one. You should also ask an electrician to check the power outlet you plan on plugging the panels into to make sure it has adequate capacity.
Off-grid solar panels and solar battery systems are completely disconnected from the grid, which makes them a popular option for remote or rural sites with no electric service. In these types of systems, one or more solar panels are used to charge a battery or solar generator with USB charging sockets and power outlets for small appliances. These off-grid systems are also a viable option for renters, because they are entirely self-contained and don't connect to the utility grid.
Portable solar panels are popular for camping, but they can also be used by renters to power small devices. These are some of the smallest solar panels available, and they only have a few watts of capacity. Their main purpose is charging smartphones, tablets and other tiny USB devices, and many of them have built-in LED flashlights.
DIY solar panel setups are also an option. You can shop online for compatible solar panels, inverters, batteries and solar charge controllers, and then build a custom system according to your needs. However, keep in mind that you must have at least basic knowledge about electricity to safely and successfully install a homemade solar system.
Appliance-specific solar panels are also a viable option for renters. You can find many devices with built-in solar panels, which don't depend on a power outlet to operate. For example, you can install solar-powered outdoor lights for your backyard or balcony, or use a solar air conditioning unit or fan to provide extra ventilation during the hottest hours of the day.
Pros and Cons of Small Solar Units
Miniature solar systems have advantages and limitations like any device. They have a lower cost than traditional rooftop systems, plus they are easier to install and relocate. Just keep in mind that they can't power larger appliances, which means their power bill savings are small.
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of the most common types of miniature solar systems:
|Renter-Friendly Solar System||Pros||Cons||Typical Price|
|Plug-in solar system||
- Easy to install
- Can be plugged into a normal power outlet
- Can only operate when connected to the grid
- You need a dedicated circuit and breaker of adequate capacity
|$1,500 for a 600 W solar system|
|Off-grid solar system||
- Can charge batteries or generators to be used after sunset
- Fully independent from the grid
|- Batteries increase the system cost significantly if you want a high energy storage capacity||$400 for a 100 W solar panel with a 24,000 mAh battery|
- Easy to carry
- Can be used for camping and other trips
|- Limited use: Charging smartphones and other small devices||$100 or less for a foldable 30 W panel|
|DIY Solar||- You can create a custom system that meets your needs||- Basic electrical knowledge is needed to set up a safe system||Variable, depending on the components used.|
- Easy to install
- The solar panel is often included with the price of the device
|- You can only use the solar panel to power one appliance or device||Variable, depending on the appliance|
Miniature solar power systems are designed for small, low-power devices such as LED bulbs and electronic gadgets. If you're a renter and would like to increase your savings beyond what is possible with small solar kits, you can consider joining a community solar project near you.
- These projects normally have two membership options: purchasing a share or paying a monthly subscription.
- In both cases, you will be entitled to a portion of the kilowatt-hours produced by the system, and this portion will be subtracted from your bill.
Another advantage of community solar is that you can move freely to another apartment or home. Since the solar panels are not physically located where you live, you can usually re-assign the electricity savings to your new address.
Products to Help Renters Maximize Solar
There are many brands of miniature solar kits, but you should look for a reliable provider like Sunboxlabs. Since you're dealing with electricity, purchasing high-quality products is strongly advised to avoid accidents. Before purchasing any solar panel or a related component, make sure it has an electrical certification mark such as:
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- ETL (Intertek)
- CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- CE (Conformité Européenne)
You can look for a solar kit that includes all components, such as this WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit. Alternatively, you can buy compatible parts separately, and build your own system. The following are some recommendations:
|Solar System Component||Recommended Product|
|Solar Panel||Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Battery||Mighty Max 12V Battery|
|Solar charge controller||ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller|
|Inverter||BESTEK 500W Power Inverter|
Keep in mind that you will also need wiring to connect all components together, and make sure you read all instructions carefully to ensure safety.
We must face facts regarding the Indian Point nuclear plant. It's infrastructure is aging, its safety is dubious and most everyone knows it. What many people don't know is that it can be replaced at little cost to ratepayers—and energy technologies taking its place would create new economic opportunities for New York.
Indian Point—just 38 miles north of New York City—is vulnerable to terrorism, has 2,000 tons of radioactive waste packed into leaking pools and relies on an unworkable evacuation plan. While some argue that transformer accidents—such as the one that occurred last month—can happen at any power facility, they happen with astonishing frequency at Indian Point. Its age is problematic: You wouldn't rely on a 40-year-old appliance, why extend this trust to a nuclear plant? Moreover, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says Indian Point 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage of all the nation's reactors. About 20 million people live within 50 miles of Indian Point. If a catastrophic accident occurred, the consequences would be unimaginable.
The NRC permits Indian Point to evade its own safety standards requiring that electrical cables controlling emergency reactor shutdowns have insulation that lasts 60 minutes in a fire. When the NRC found that the plant's insulation lasted just 27 minutes, it gave Indian Point an exemption. Your own home likely has more insulation on its electrical cables than does the plant.
Entergy and nuclear-industry groups make spurious claims that skyrocketing energy costs would result from Indian Point's closure. Actually, it can be retired without undermining the state's electric grid. Planning is under way for better efficiencies and cleaner energy sources. The cost to ratepayers will be minimal when compared to the risks, and homeowners could actually see savings in a few years—especially if they make their homes more energy efficient.
Closing Indian Point was pronounced doable by New York state in 2013, and it would bring economic opportunities and create jobs. SolarCity's manufacturing plans in Buffalo are just one signal of the potential.
And then there's the slaughter of Hudson River fish to consider: Indian Point kills more than a billion fish eggs and larvae each year through its cooling systems. The radiological contamination it leaks violates the Clean Water Act and has devastating effects on the river's ecology. Closing it would be a step toward restoration of species in decline.
It's no longer a question of whether Indian Point can be shut down, it certainly can. This aging nuclear power plant in a densely populated and ecologically fragile region is inherently problematic, threatening river life and human life. It no longer has a place in New York's energy landscape.We must close it before it closes us.
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Last Call at the Oasis, a fine new film on water issues by Oscar-winner Jessica Yu, has more than its share of "uh-oh" moments. Screening audiences gasp audibly as Las Vegas runs out of water, fracking chemicals turn Texas swimming pools a nasty green and frogs change sex due to pesticide exposure.
Later in Last Call, we learn how to prevent still more horrible damage to our water resources. Conservation is an obvious first step. How about being honest with ourselves about the effects of chemical contamination in our communities? And, there's the possibility that one day we'll be going toilet-to-tap for drinking water, an idea floated in the film by a deadpan, lab-coated Jack Black, holding a beta test bottle of "Porcelain Springs."
Doubt the seriousness of the water issue? Think it's a plot by doomy environmentalists or tax-and-spend liberals? Not according to Bush Senior's EPA Administrator, William Reilly, who warns that 117 million Americans still lack proper access to safe drinking water. And, as many as 3.5 million Americans are being sickened each year because of bacteria in poorly-treated wastewater.
Reilly should know, as he served at the EPA during the beginning of the end for clean water investment. During the 1970s and the 1980s, the feds put more than $60 billion into building public wastewater treatment systems. President Reagan and Congress ended that program in 1987, abandoning true conservative values like thrift and investment in the future to help pay for tax cuts. Thus began an epic decline in conditions at our water treatment plants, which are now in such bad condition that the American Society of Civil Engineers assigned them a grade of D- in 2009.
America's neglect for its infrastructure now translates into major public health problems. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers swim and fish in the Hudson River—even drink from it—assuming that we're taking the necessary steps to keep the river clean. Riverkeeper's water quality testing reveals the truth: bacteria levels in the Hudson exceed federal safe swimming guidelines over 20 percent of the time. After it rains, that number can be as high as 56 percent. Roughly a quarter of New York's sewage systems are decades overdue for replacement or rehab.
Granted, water treatment is only one of many problems we've let worsen in recent years, but it's only common sense to pay paramount attention to the stuff we and our families drink, cook with and bathe in. And, every year we wait, fixing the problem becomes more costly. In 1986, when the feds were still spending on water infrastructure, capital investment needs for clean water were about $80 billion. Now, they're over $250 billion.
Whether you consider yourself an environmentalist or not, it's time to speak up for clean, safe water. You may not think the politicians will listen, but try it and see. Here in New York, grassroots groups won approval for key infrastructure investments in the City of Beacon, and on the Sparkill Creek in Rockland County, too. In New York City, the "SWIM Coalition" is driving multi-billion dollar investments in reducing storm-related sewer overflows—investments that will not only improve conditions in local waterways, they'll also beautify city neighborhoods and save New Yorkers money in the long run.
Last Call at the Oasis is an essential film that deftly balances entertainment, information and a call for action, a hallmark of its production company, Participant Media. It's also a compelling and long-overdue wake-up call that we need to answer now by ending America's 35-year drought in clean water investment.