In preparation for the New York City People’s Climate March, Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen spoke to staffers from the United Nations about why nuclear power is not a viable solution to the issue of climate change. Following the New York City UN presentation, Arnie traveled to Westchester County, New York regarding the Entergy-owned Indian Point reactors that are located only 26 miles north of New York City. In the Westchester County presentation, Arnie identified that the Fukushima disaster was not unique to Japan, but in fact could happen at any nuclear power plant in the United States. This is that presentation.
Tim Judson, Executive Director of NIRS – the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, also presented. We have added the transcript of his presentation to the Fairewinds.org website as well. Thank you to the groups in New York that sponsored this event. Remember, radiation knows no borders.
Transcript: Arnie Gundersen (followed by Tim Judson, NIRS)
Arnie Gundersen followed by Tim Judson, NIRS
Marilyn Elie (co-founder of the Westchester Citizens Awareness Network and an original member of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition): Without further ado, I would like for you to welcome, please, Mr. Arnie Gundersen.
AG: Is this thing live? Thank you for coming. I’m Arnie Gundersen and it’s spelled with an e. Fairewinds and Gundersen with an e. And I’d like to thank David for the _____??1:31. I always wanted to be able to sing and compose – that’s a cool thing. In the back of my mind I have a song I’d like to write called Connecticut Cowboy about how hard it is to buy a gun rack to fit in the back of BMW’s. We mentioned about world famous, which is kind of crazy. Maggie and I – my wife, Maggie, really runs Fairewinds and is the creative force behind Fairewinds. I’m just the talking head if you will.
Back – I was a senior VP in the nuclear industry until 1990 and became a nuclear whistleblower. We lost everything. We lost our house, bankruptcy, foreclosure, the whole bit. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission never lifted a finger to help. And it was John Glenn, my boyhood hero as an astronaut who held congressional hearings where I was exonerated and it was kind of cool – I got to meet him, with deep appreciation. So meanwhile, we moved on; life goes on. And became a dorm parent in a boarding school for kids that had learning disabilities. So during that, we needed a house, we had no place to live. So we taught in the day and I expert witnessed at night. And gradually, Fairewinds developed.
Fairewinds, by the way, has nothing to do with the wind. It’s the name of my wife’s grandparents’ blueberry farm. And that’s how we got its name. And I was poking along teaching and writing expert reports until I went full time in 2008 when Governor Shumlin – he wasn’t governor at the time, he was President pro tem in Vermont of the Senate – appointed me to be one of the overseers on the public oversight committee for Vermont Yankee, something that Entergy needs here as well but won’t happen. And from ’08 until 2010 it was essentially a one trick pony focusing on Vermont Yankee. It was a little bit of work besides that but it was a Vermont Yankee focus and of course, I was on the panel and I was the one who discovered these underground pipes that Entergy executives were lying under oath that didn’t exist. And I testified to the Vermont Senate in October of 2009 about the fact that there were underground radioactive pipes that Entergy had lied to the panel about. And the Entergy execs under oath said they didn’t exist and of course, three months later they broke and contaminated the Connecticut River and the site with radioactive material. (4:48)
But still Fairewinds was essentially an expert witness firm and there was no high visibility like we discussed. But during those years in the wilderness, I’d talked to a lot of reports on a lot of really technical stuff. And then came Fukushima Daiichi and it happened on a Friday. And all weekend long, the press was calling – like 18-hour days. And I told Maggie, I said I’m not going to let this get covered up like Three Mile Island. I don’t care if I trash my life but this is our moment to change history. So when so many reporters call you in the course of a weekend, you’re bound to make one or two of the papers on Monday morning. So Monday morning comes and I’m quoted as an expert in the Washington Post and The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and a couple of others. CNN doesn’t have experts on hand but they do read the newspaper. This Arnie Gundersen guy must be an expert; he’s quoted in The Washington Post, New York Times, etc. So they put me on CNN and the rest is history. They were giving me eight minutes of air time, which is an enormous amount of air time, but it wasn’t enough. And Maggie had been bugging me for years that we should do videos. And I’m like “who wants to hear an old man talking?” I wasn’t interested. And finally I said to her, okay let’s do a video. So our little static website with my expert reports – we used to get 50 people a day. We put a video up and we had 10,000, and the next day we put another video up and we had 25,000. And the servers crashed. It was a crazy time. And now we’re over 12 million because of her media strategy. My issues but the media strategy really for Fairewinds is Maggie. So I wanted to share that with you.
It’s only been in the last 3 years that I’ve had the forum to speak the truth; not even the truth, just speak what’s obvious. It’s not like the other experts don’t know it. They’re just afraid to say it.
Question: What kind of videos did you show?
Well, the first video – they were all – we developed a theme really early on, “I am Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds,” and we would talk about Fukushima and the problems that were occurring that day. And they would go somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes. And we’d post it – in the last 3 years, we’ve posted 170 videos. And I’ll break for a commercial here. We took the best 12 and we put them together into a CD that we put together. And not only are the videos here but there’s little blurbs about the beginning of each of the stories. We were invited to do a video for the Tokyo Film Festival – Peace Film Festival. And so we shot it in downtown Burlington. At the end of the shoot, a dove flew by. It was so fitting and we didn’t even notice it until we were actually producing the video. So each one of these has a little story and so I’ll put them at the back. We’re asking for a $20 donation if you’re interested. So anyway, that’s how Fairewinds started. It was essentially born from Fukushima and CNN and just not having the time to fully explain problems. And the rest is history. Thank you for coming.
I wanted to talk today about my experience on the Public Oversight Panel in Vermont where we evaluated Entergy in Vermont and how the similarities are just astounding with Entergy here in New York State. So I wanted to spend 10 minutes or so on that experience.
First of all, Entergy had a corporate strategy at the turn of the century to buy old nuclear plants. And they bought Vermont Yankee for less than $200 million. And a new plant of that size was probably something on the order of $10 billion. So it was an enormous discount. (9:27) And between 2002 when they bought the plant and 2007, they made a boatload of money. They got – the market was high, the economy was flying and there wasn’t a lot of fracked gas on the market to drive electric prices down. And they never reinvested that in the power plant. Their stock prices took off; their stockholders were very well compensated, and their executives were even more so, well-compensated. That turned, of course, with the market collapse and the economy collapse and the load collapse. And since then, most of Entergy’s fleet of plants – we call them merchant plants because they don’t sell directly – they’re not utilities any more – are either marginally making money, like perhaps Indian Point, or definitely losing money like Vermont Yankee and Fitzpatrick.
So the strategy that made Entergy successful at the beginning of the 20th Century is now dragging it down in the last five years. It is a very investor-focused organization. If you think you’re a stakeholder, you’re not. The only people they really care about are their investors. In 2008, they tried to spin off these merchant plants in a marketing faux pas that will go down in history. They called the spinoff SpinCo and thankfully, New York State and Vermont saw through it. It was woefully undercapitalized. It was 90 percent roughly debt. And they counted on all six plants operating all the time in order to pay the interest on the money. So their execs and their stockholders were going to make a boatload of money and then the SpinCo would have to survive on the fact that every one of these plants had to keep running. And if they broke, there wasn’t enough money to pay the debt. So to New York State’s credit and to Vermont’s credit, we dug in our heels and prevented SpinCo from moving forward, and eventually it became obvious to everybody else it was a bad idea. But the execs that came up with that brilliant idea are still there.
So the first point is that it’s a company designed to increase shareholder value and if they call you a stakeholder and they call their employees stakeholders, it’s just not true.
What I learned when I was on the panel was that they have a unique way of distributing funds for the six nuclear plants that are in their merchant fleet and the six are Indian Point, two here, Fitzpatrick, Palisades, Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim. What they do is the company decides how much money is available for maintenance. And it’s not like everybody puts in their request and they get what they ask for. The company decides what’s available. And then the executives from each of these plants go into a room and argue until they divide up the pie as equitably as they can given the pie is too small for their needs. We found this out when I was on the oversight panel at Vermont Yankee. In 2009, there were 5 of us: Peter Bradford, who is quoted here and a former NRC commissioner, but also in charge of the Public Service Commission here in New York State for years. So Peter and I, a former nuclear engineer for the state, a professor at Penn State and Dave Lochbaum (13:32) were on this panel and we looked into problems at Vermont Yankee. And one of the points that we highlighted was that they weren’t spending enough money on maintenance. And we put that in writing in 2009. In 2009, we had 80 problem areas at Vermont Yankee and we determined that if they nailed those 80 areas, they could run for another 20 years. So only an antinuclear – I’m the only antinuke I know who’s ever signed a report saying you can run for 20 more years. But so in 2009, we signed a report saying you can run for 20 more years, but oh, by the way, we think you’re not spending enough money on maintenance. And Entergy portrayed that as these granola crunchy Vermonters were saying that, but it wasn’t true.
Entergy commissioned another group of experts to look at Indian Point. (14:29) And these were 12 hand-picked people from Entergy. And they came to the same conclusion about Indian Point. They said you’re not spending enough money. And the physical condition of the plant has an adverse affect on morale. If you went into the plant – and I don’t know if anybody’s been there, but there’s a pipe that runs up the side of the containment that’s designed to release the radiation in the event of an accident. And Entergy never painted it. It was this rusty thing hanging down. And the panel said, as you drive in to work every day, you see that. And as a maintenance person, it’s going to affect your outlook at plant maintenance. So it wasn’t just us granola eating crunchies up in Vermont, but their own hand-picked experts that came to the same conclusion.
So then I was appointed, after the panel dissolved, I was appointed by the Senate, but the joint fiscal committee in Vermont asked me to stay on and see if they were making any progress about knocking out these 80 problem areas. And something didn’t smell right and I just knew that they weren’t telling us the truth about these underground pipes. And I testified at a Joint Fiscal Committee about the underground pipes and three months later, I said we were lying to the panel, didn’t tell you the truth because Entergy didn’t tell us the truth. And Peter Shumlin is now governor and he – nonetheless, he was still president of the senate and he put it on the agenda he wanted to talk about that in January. And before the agenda ever materialized, the plant developed this underground leak that suddenly elevated the issue to astronomical terms. So Shumlin and others brought us back and the panel looked at this thing again and we determined that the problem – the reason this pipe failed was that they were too cheap. So it was the oversight panel who in ’09 had the broad concern and then in 2010 we had a narrower concern that there is a real safety concern when you’re too cheap, and underground pipes can burst and this is a classic example.
We had essentially three reports: two from the oversight panel and one from Entergy’s own hand-picked panel that this was not the way you’d want to run a nuclear business. And what was Entergy’s response? They cut their staff by 10 percent. They cut their staff by 10 percent. So again, this is a stockholder-focused organization. Safety second, I think is their motto.
So moving on, it’s clear to me that Vermont Yankee they will say was shut down for economic reasons, but it was really the citizen involvement for a long, long time that led them to choose Vermont Yankee. It could have been Pilgrim, it could have been Fitzpatrick or Palisades, both of which are single-unit plants. But it was Vermont Yankee because citizen involvement pushed them to the point that they just wanted to make it go away. So I encourage you to stay at it, your involvement in day-to-day activities here, always looking over their shoulder is a big factor in any business decisions they’ll make.
You know, the town of Vernon is where Vermont Yankee is, and it was shocked when Vermont Yankee shut down. It was as if they went through a divorce. But they promised us 20 years and they only gave us one. And I had told the Senate the year before, this is not a 20-year marriage. To you, to the people who want that nuclear plant, they’ll believe it’s a 20-year marriage. But to Entergy it’s 20 years of one-night stands. Every day they make a decision, is there enough money to run another day. And when we looked at their – the resource allocation, it was can we keep the plant fixed enough to run another 18 months. And their horizon on making repairs was can we make it good enough to run for another 18 months. And 18 months is to the next refuel. There’s never any attempt to make it good enough to run for 60 years. The goal is can we put enough Band-Aids on to get this plant to run for another 18 months. And I found that appalling, but it is the way Entergy does business; not just with Vermont Yankee, but Pilgrim, Indian Point, Fitzpatrick.
So please know that the organization you are dealing with has that incredibly short-term focus when in fact nuclear safety requires a much longer event horizon. Entergy has problems, not just at Vermont Yankee pipe or here with the frequent shutdowns, fires and transformers and things like that, but Palisades is another one of their plants in Michigan with numerous problems. but the one I’ll tell you about: they have a tank that sits above the control room and it leaks. It’s a safety-related thing. It shouldn’t be leaking, period, but it’s above the control room. And it drips into the control room. And when [NRC] Chairman Jaczko (20:09) was there, they actually were collecting the drops in a bucket, and the NRC didn’t tell Chairman Jaczko about that, that the tank on the roof of the control room was leaking water into the control room. Fitzpatrick up in upstate New York is a single-unit plant and has a condenser that’s leaking like a sieve. And for years, they just kept putting another Band-aid, putting another Band-Aid on. And this year, they finally committed to replacing it with a new condenser, largely – not because they wanted to but because Dave Lochbaum at the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote a scathing letter to the NRC saying this plant is not safe and unless you replace that condenser you are basically creating a serious safety hazard. That’s what it takes to push them over. And Pilgrim has had a tritium leak for as long as I can remember and they never seem to be able to find it. One wonders if they really want to. So it is a systemic problem within the merchant fleet at Entergy.
So the last two things I’d like to mention before handing the mic over to Tim is that the problems here – in my opinion, the two big problems are not new. When I was a VP in the industry, I had a group of emergency planners. And this was 1982, 83, 84. And we knew then that the worst plant in the country was Indian Point. So for us to be suddenly stumbling on oh, the emergency planning at Indian Point is a problem - no, the industry has known for almost 30 years now that Indian Point is the worst plant in the country as far as evacuation plans. And the reasons are obvious. You have a river on one side and all the roads essentially go north/south. There’s nowhere to run to the east or to the west. And the roads that do go north/south are small, two-lane highways. So emergency planning has been known within the industry as the Achilles heel of Indian Point for 30 years. Don’t be surprised.
The other piece of that is the seismic issues. There’s something in the industry called CDF, which stands for core damage frequency. And Indian Point has had the highest core damage frequency of any power plant in the country due to seismic events. So forget the plants in California. The worst plant as far as the chance of a radioactive release in the event of a seismic event has always been since, again, the late 80’s, Indian Point. So experts within the NRC have always had it right at the top of the list and it really took Fukushima to push the NRC to cause something to begin to move on that. I suspect they’ll analyze the problem for 7 or 8 years and when they realize how bad the problem is, they’ll shut the plant down rather than making the appropriate fixes.
I just came off a study for Friends of the Earth and I looked at, in the last 10 years, there’s been 12 nuclear plants involved in earthquakes.
There were 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which is in Japan. It’s on the Sea of Japan side of Japan. And they had a really serious earthquake in 2007. And I was over there speaking in 2012, and one of their seismologists said to me, he said I told them in 2007 this would be our last warning and then we had Fukushima. But the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa earthquake was worse than the accident - worse than what the plant was designed for, and worse than they ever expected in 10,000 years, and yet it happened in 30 years. So there are seven plants, three of which never started back up again. Twenty-five hundred different items were damaged by the earthquake and the entire site was shut down for three years, and like I said, three of the plants were never started up. A couple started up a year later and a few just started up right before Fukushima Daiichi. So when you hear experts say that the worst that can happen at Indian Point is a .15 G ground acceleration earthquake, those are the same experts that say Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was well built, too. So the first earthquake involving seven nuclear plants was the one at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. And every plant experienced ground acceleration that were worse than the worst that they thought would occur in 10,000 years; and of course, it happened in 30 years.
The next one is Fukushima, obviously, and the ground acceleration in the buildings at Fukushima was worse than they ever expected to occur in 10,000 years. And yet it happened in 30 years. And there is seismic damage at Fukushima. The releases weren’t due to the seismic damage, but there’s numerous items that were destroyed by the earthquake before the tsunami ever got there.
And the last earthquake is an east coast earthquake. It’s in North Anna, and that’s the one that caused the crack in the Washington monument. I’m sure you felt it here; we felt it in Vermont a couple of years ago. And that was a .12 earthquake. And it exceeded what the plant was designed for on a 10,000-year timeframe. So an earthquake that wasn’t supposed to happen in 10,000 years happened in 30 years there, too. So the experts that are telling you that Indian Point is well designed at .15 are the same ones that told you that North Anna can withstand – the worst that North Anna can expect is a .12.
The last piece I’d like to leave you with – North Anna is an old plant like Indian Point, similar design, not quite the same. But it was designed to a .12 based on the standards of the 60’s, when the plant was designed. That’s North Anna 1 and 2. North Anna 3 is a new plant that is proposed and before the earthquake at North Anna, the new seismic requirement for North Anna 3 was a .54 earthquake – four times higher than the old plant had originally been designed for. Yet the NRC didn’t go back and tell North Anna 1 and 2 that they should make the appropriate modifications since the earthquakes been a lot worse. So when you hear they’re going to reevaluate the earthquakes here at Indian Point, there’s not enough experts to do it quickly and we need time, that’s baloney. I had 70 structural engineers working for me when I was a senior VP. The people are out there. It’s just the industry doesn’t want the results to be known quickly, because it pays for them to limp along a couple more years and squeeze a couple more bucks out of this plant before they shut it down.
The last thing the panel concluded is that no plant has ever run 60 years. The oldest nuclear plant ever has run 47 years before it was shutdown. So if you have an expectancy that Indian Point is going to run 60 years based on licensing promises, the history of nuclear power is that no plant has ever made it beyond its 47th year before it shut down. Again, it’s not a 20-year marriage; it’s 20 years of one-night stands.
I think I’ll hand it off to Tim.
EMCEE: I think we’re going to hold questions if that’s okay. Write them down. So the plan is if you have questions, please write them down and there will be panel time and a lot of time for Q&A. So note that and Marilyn did you have cards that you want to pass out?
Tim Judson, NIRS
Tim Judson, Executive Director of Nuclear Information & Research Service (NIRS)
Thanks everyone. And thanks, Arnie, for that terrific sort of lay of the land in terms of where we stand today with that. So it’s great to be here back in Westchester County. As Marilyn alluded to earlier, I haven’t lived in Westchester County, but I’ve had a lot of connections with activism around Indian Point since around 1999, when I was an anti-nuclear activist at Syracuse and was – had met Marilyn at an anti-nuclear activist action camp in southern Vermont. And I was working with an organization called Citizens Awareness Network, which at that point launched a campaign to close the Vermont Yankee reactor. And Marilyn and Margo and Mark Jacobs and I think – was it Susan Gabriel? – were trying to figure out how to launch and how to increase sort of the activist activity and close Indian Point. And right around that point, there was a safety event at Indian Point 2 with some electrical failures that was starting to get some attention. And so I came down as sort of a kindred spirit to help kind of figure some things out. And maybe the ill-figured (1:41) recommendation to them that you know, well, you’ve only got four people here but you can still shut a nuke with that.
( I think you said, “You have four people!? You could totally do this!”)
And in fact, when we were struggling along for I think a year and a half or something like that with increasing safety issues, Indian Point 2 followed up on this electrical problem with a steam generator tube rupture that actually released radiation into the community, and Indian Point 2 got shut down for about nine months. And we discovered all sorts of problems under Con Edison’s management with systemic mismanagement.
Whistleblowers – actually not so much whistleblowers but anonymous workers from the plant were starting to feed us documents showing us exactly what a mess that reactor was. And we were getting it out to the media. And Marilyn and Margo and Mark and activists who were joining them were doing Burma Save actions in the community raising awareness and eventually Con Edison got the reactor back on line about nine months later. And we felt like we’d lost. We missed our opportunity to close Indian Point 2.
And it was during that time that Entergy came forward and started buying the reactors in New York. And we were fighting them over Entergy’s purchase of the Fitzpatrick reactor upstate at Indian Point 3 and then the sale of Indian Point 2 followed and we were fighting – we were trying to fight these sales. Because we knew that no matter how bad ??3:33 and Con Ed were in running these reactors, that Entergy was going to come in here as a merchant nuclear plant operator and it was all going to be about cutting costs. They were going to squeeze every dime out of these reactors they could by cutting costs and running them basically until they even got to the breaking point. And we got a hearing on that with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and eventually lost because the NRC always gives the industry what it wants. But it drug out a whole bunch of information about how they run their reactors and kind of how the corporation is structured, which make it really clear to us, just like Arnie drew out, that they may talk about themselves as a nuclear power corporation and as a friendly neighbor, they’re great for the environment because they don’t release any greenhouses gases, that they provide lots of jobs and that they’re a job creator, that they pay all these taxes and they’re a good neighbor, they were set up under the most brutal bottom line type of corporation. And their financial experts actually testified to us in court that if they determined that Indian Point or Fitzpatrick was not going to be making the money, that they would make the decision to pull the plug overnight. Overnight. They might not tell you about it for a few weeks, but they would make the decision to pull the plug right away. And in fact, that’s what happened in Vermont is what we found. Entergy was saying up until the day that it held the press conference to announce the closure of Vermont Yankee that it was going to be there in the community, that it was going to be running that plant and keeping those jobs around for 20 years and they were going to be running that plant as safe as they could, and overnight the story changed. And they won.
And what we found through that process was that really the economics is what drives this industry. And I think that what we’re seeing right now is that Entergy is really in trouble. And I think that the way that the relicensing case with Indian Point is dragging out and the uncertainty around that, that it can seem like a hard slog at this point, like Entergy is sort of on the path to getting what they want. (6:07) But this is a corporation that’s really in trouble. And Indian Point sits right at the nexus of all of that for them.
And so I’m going to tell you a little bit about kind of what’s going on with Entergy and how I think we can close the plant, and what it means not just for the safety of Westchester County and the lower Hudson and New York City, but what this means for the nuclear industry as a whole. Essentially, the closure at Indian Point, which shut at least two if not three more reactors, and the reason for that is because Indian Point is the only profitable nuclear plant that Entergy owns in the northeast, and actually including the one they own in Michigan, the Palisades reactor. And they are completely clear about that fact. And so how do we know this?
Well, last year – actually, it was about almost two years ago now, something happened that rocked the nuclear industry. And it sort of has changed the whole way that the nuclear industry is viewed. And it was the closure of the Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin. And if you’ve never heard of the Kewaunee reactor, that’s for good reason. It was one of the smallest reactors in the country, nobody would have paid any attention to it, and overnight, just like with Vermont Yankee, it’s owner, Dominion Power Corporation in Virginia, which owns the North Anna plant that Arnie was on, decided to pull the plug. And it wasn’t because they had some big safety issue come up, it wasn’t because there were a lot of activists banging on the doors, it wasn’t because they were having to implement all sorts of safety improvements from the NRC after Fukushima. It was just they couldn’t make any money on that plant because it was old, it was small, and the cost of operating it was going up, because these plants are wearing out. And the cost of energy, partly because of fracking but also because we’ve been making a lot of progress with energy efficiency and renewables in this country, especially in the Midwest where there’s a ton of wind – the cost of electricity was so low that Dominion knew there was no way they were going to make any money running this reactor. And so they closed it. And that was kind of like the shot that rang around the world for the nuclear industry, because for the last 15 years since Entergy went on this buying spree, snapping up reactors around the northeast, Wall Street has assumed that nuclear power – maybe not building new nukes that were going to cost 15 billion dollars, but running old nukes that were already basically bailed out and paid for by the ratepayers, that they were a safe bet. You could always make money on an old nuclear plant. But the game changed and Wall Street wasn’t paying attention. And so none of the Wall Street firms – UBS which is a Swiss investment bank, you have this coming called Morningstar based in Chicago – about 5 or 6 different Wall Street firms started looking at the nuclear industry. And what they found was that this is an industry that’s falling apart at the seams, because all these reactors are getting old and the cost of maintaining these things is so much more expensive than running any other kind of power plant. (9:35) And basically the fact that we’ve got all this energy efficiency coming on line around the country, the renewables – the cost of wind and solar is going down so much – there’s parts of the country where there’s so much wind that nuclear power plants are having to pay windmills to turn off during the night because nuclear plants can’t power up and down. And so when there’s too much electricity on the grid, they’re paying the windmills to turn off. Yeah. So this is your nuclear power climate solution that it’s paying renewable energy to turn off. And so these investors are looking and they’re like wow, we’ve got to take a closer look at this.
What they found is that Entergy is really in danger. Their entire merchant power division is nuclear. They’ve got maybe a couple of small wind plants and a gas plant here and there, but basically over 90 percent of this whole merchant power division of Entergy is nuclear power, and it’s all these old reactors. And most of them are these small single-unit plants. Indian Point’s unique. So Indian Point is the only profitable one they’ve got. It’s floating the rest of this business. They found that Vermont Yankee was projected to lose 100 million dollars to 120 million dollars over the next five years. Fitzpatrick was expected to lose 130 million dollars over the next few years. Pilgrim they didn’t look at closely enough, but it was in the same ballpark, just because of the way the electricity markets work. And so Indian Point, because it’s down here close to New York City where there’s a ton of power demand, this is the only profitable plant they have. And it’s supporting the rest of the business. So if this plant goes down, then all the rest of their business goes belly up. And so Entergy is under an intense amount of scrutiny from Wall Street right now about the state of the company. And so we’re on the front lines here in the lower Hudson of what’s going to happen with this corporation.
Entergy’s not alone in this. Entergy’s the second largest nuclear power generator in the country. There’s another company called Exelon which owns basically a quarter of the nuclear power plants in the U.S., including three in upstate New York, the Nine Mile Points 1 and 2 and Ginna reactors. Entergy operates Fitzpatrick right next door to Nine Mile Point. So these companies have a weird relationship. They’re sometimes in competition and sometimes they’ve got the same interests, but they’re both in the same boat where they own a ton of these merchant nuclear plants that are old and uneconomical and they’re in danger of essentially Wall Street losing confidence in them. And so what they decided after Vermont Yankee closed was that they needed to go on the offensive. And so what they did starting last fall that really is sort of taking off this year was they declared war on renewable energy. And they have ramped up their lobbying activities both at the federal level and at the state level to destroy renewable energy. They’re opposing solar power and net metering. Exelon has been kicked out of the American Wind Energy Association for how hard it’s lobbying against the federal subsidies for wind power.
Exelon did this incredible move where they basically started earlier this year in Illinois, threatening to close five of their reactors in Illinois and cut a deal with the state legislature to not close their plants for just one year if they [the state legislature] killed a renewable energy bill that would have advanced renewable energy in Illinois. They basically held the state hostage. And then ran through a resolution basically having the state legislature call for not just the State of Illinois to subsidize the nuclear industry, but calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal government to tell them to subsidize the nuclear industry and to tell other states to do the same thing.
(13:46) And that happened about a couple of weeks before the EPA released their new carbon pollution data, the draft clean power plan that came out which the industry is currently trying to get the EPA to increase the amount of incentives in it for nuclear power, but basically gave them what they needed, which is to tell the states that you can meet your current production goals by subsidizing existing reactors; that you can reduce emissions by keeping nuclear plants from closing. And so you’re starting to see op eds popping up all around New York State and other states. There was one on Huffington Post this morning by Jerry Kremer (14:37), the guy on Entergy’s payroll who’s running this front group in New York City called the Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance – AREA – basically calling for New York to start giving nuclear plants subsidies because they’re low carbon emission. And there is a push on – right now what’s happening, the reason they’re doing this is because the state Public Service Commission is under mandate right now to redefine the renewable portfolio standard in New York, which is one of the most effective clean energy policies in the country. We’ve basically phased out all of our coal generation in New York State through that and through a greenhouse gas initiative, and we have increased our renewables dramatically. So what Entergy wants to do is basically get the state to include nuclear in the renewable portfolio standard. Yeah. Which was basically eliminate any opportunity for renewable energy to grow in New York. Because what the renewable portfolio standard does is it mandates the utility companies like Con Ed and National Grid and all the utilities to buy a certain portion of their power from renewables which gives the subsidies to wind power and solar, landfill gas, that kind of stuff. But by putting nuclear in the renewable energy standard or the clean energy standard – what they’ve come to call it, because that’s the kind of euphemisms they use, it would – all the utilities could basically buy more than enough of these credits from nuclear plants and not have to invest any in wind energy or solar or anything else ?16:23.
So this is really a way for nuclear to squeeze out renewable energy and through getting new subsidies like this which are going to prop them up. And what they’re going to do in other states, they’ll try to include nuclear in a way that nuclear plants can sell credits or offsets to coal and gas plants to keep them from having to comply with EPA regulations. What they’re doing is they’re working out a way to leverage their nuclear plants to save their coal and gas plants. Because all of these companies are both – Entergy in the northeast looks like a nuclear power company, but actually, 60 percent of the electricity that Entergy generates is from natural gas. So the nuclear industry is also the coal industry is also the gas industry is – they’re the fossil fuel industry as well. And what they’re working out is a scheme to be able to prevent essential climate action.
This ought to be – so this is sort of a call to arms, right? I mean we have the opportunity right now to transition to a sustainable energy system in New York and elsewhere. The cost of solar has fallen by a factor of four in the last five years. It now costs you 25 percent as much to buy solar panels as it did five years ago. The cost of wind is now cheaper in some places than natural gas. And energy efficiency is still the most cost effective thing around. So in addition to fighting the relicensing of Indian Point and the destruction of the Hudson River and the possibility of essentially the devastation of the entire region through a meltdown resulting from an earthquake or something else that Entergy does wrong, we also have an opportunity to start the phase out of Indian Point now. And to give you a sense – the way that Entergy makes their money – like I said before, the nuclear plant, they can’t ramp up and down based on what the demand for electricity is. They have to run this as a baseload plant that runs 100 percent all the time or not at all. And that’s the only way a nuclear plant can make money is by running all the time. So, like I said, in the areas where there’s a lot of wind in the Midwest, sometimes the nuclear plants are having to pay windmills to turn off because they can’t put more energy into the grid than there is demand for. They’ll burn it out. So the way that they make their money is at night when there’s low demand, the price of electricity is cheap. They’re not making any money on that. They make money during the afternoon when power prices goes up as demand goes up; when there’s need for air conditioning or lighting or heating or whatever. They’re making more money. And so that’s dependent on the price of natural gas right now. Natural gas power plants turn on in the afternoons to meet demand, and they cause the price of electricity to go up. And that’s where Entergy makes their money is when the price of power goes up, in the summer, in the dead of winter, in the afternoon or late at night, but mostly in the afternoon and in the summer when electricity demand is high and the prices go up. That’s when they make their money.
So an interesting thing to think about is what happens if you start putting up a lot of solar? If you put up a lot of solar, when does solar power make the most electricity? In the afternoon, in the summer, during the day when Entergy’s relying on the price for electricity being really high because all these gas plants have got to turn on. (Part 2 begins) You would cut off the peak electricity prices in the downstate region. And at that point, the economics of Indian Point completely fall apart. And so in addition – so this is what I’m putting on the table – is that we’re at a point when we’ve got to fight for our renewable energy future. Because if the industry gets the things that they’re trying to accomplish in the next couple of years, it’s going to set us back to where we were 15 years ago when Entergy bought these reactors, and we’ve been struggling for 15 years to shut this plant.
We’ve got the opportunity to close them down now. And we can do that by setting these things in motion, by really charging ahead with renewable energy and energy efficiency and our sustainable energy future. We can’t wait until after Indian Point closes to start putting up sustainable energy. Actually doing that now as fast as we can will help close that reactor and so that’s what I kind of want to put on the table is that we’ve got to fight Indian Point as hard as we can. In fact, the uncertainty that the relicensing case and the water permits issue with the DEC’s (1:16) stance where they’ve got to put up these cooling towers – the uncertainty that that’s creating is doubling Wall Street’s concern about Entergy because the possibility that Indian Point could go away because of these legal actions that are going on is making Wall Street really, really anxious about what’s going to happen to Entergy. And so while all that is going on, for us to start taking a shot at the economics of Indian Point by doing what we want to do anyway, can really turn a corner. And I think as soon as we start – we’re working on a campaign in New York City right now to get New York City to start moving in this direction. I think if we can start ramping that up around the state, around especially the lower Hudson region, the uncertainty that that’s going to create around Indian Point is going to be really palpable.
And so I think one of the things I would say is if you want to shut Indian Point, put solar panels on your house. That’s in addition to fighting as hard as you can in the streets, start putting solar panels on your house. Get city hall to put solar panels on. Put solar panels on your schools, which we’re going to need to do anyway.