A Stand-Off No One Wants to See, and a Trade-Off No One Wants to Make
Providing energy for millions of people comes at a cost. Power generation requires water – and at times, this requirement creates a conflict between the need for energy and the need for water. This conflict came to a head recently in the biggest city in America: New York.
In New York, the Indian Point power plant (based in Buchanan) provides electricity for 30 percent of New York City and for all of Westchester County, a critical function that impacts millions of people. Generating this much electricity for millions of people requires 2.5 billion gallons of water each day, nearly twice the amount of water used in New York City daily.
In April of 2010, the power plant was found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act. According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the plant was returning the water it used for power generation to the Hudson River – as polluted water. Further, the plant consumed twice its average daily water allowance for once-through cooling.
Now a ruling requires the company to either shut down the plant or install a cooling system that recycles cooling water. The cooling system is not cheap. According to the New York Times, changing the cooling system would cost $1.1 billion and require both reactors to be shut down for more than three years. This undesirable scenario would cause power shortages for the largest city in the United States.
The company that owns the plant challenged the ruling in court, but what is happening in New York is not unique. Without water, we cannot produce energy. This relationship is well-known and is referred to as “the water-energy nexus.”
The population of the United States is expected to grow and so are the country’s energy needs. As this happens, it will become increasingly challenging for large cities to meet the need for drinking water while also meeting their energy needs. Meeting our energy and water needs for the future requires us to implement sustainable solutions now.