By James Nani

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it official Monday, saying that the 2,000-megawatt Indian Point nuclear power plant will close by April 2021, with his office saying it will have "little to no effect on New Yorkers' electricity bills."

Cuomo, who has opposed the plant in Westchester County for more than 10 years, announced the agreement Monday as part of his State of the State tour.

It was signed on Sunday and includes signatures from the environmental group Riverkeeper and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Both had been in litigation with the plant's operator, Entergy.

Cuomo has argued that the plant's proximity to New York City and various operational and safety problems make it unsafe.

As part of the agreement, Riverkeeper and the state will end ongoing lawsuits and regulatory actions against the plant.

In exchange, Entergy has agreed to apply for a six-year license renewal instead of a 20-year one.

"I am proud to have secured this agreement with Entergy to responsibly close the facility 14 years ahead of schedule to protect the safety of all New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a release.

"This administration has been aggressively pursuing and incentivizing the development of clean, reliable energy, and the state is fully prepared to replace the power generated by the plant at a negligible cost to ratepayers."

In a release, Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay called the agreement a win for a "clean, sustainable future" against a plant that is "the biggest existential threat in the region."

Gallay predicted the impact on consumer utility bills would be between $1 and $2 a month, calling it a "small price to pay" for minimizing the risk the plant poses.

He said new, efficient and renewable energy projects will drive more savings for consumers.

"Once Indian Point is closed, we won't need to rely on fossil fuels to make up for its energy. Peak demand in the region will have declined by more than the 2,000 megawatts the plant generates, and the replacement power will be carbon neutral as the state further increases its clean energy investments," Gallay said.

Power switch

One of the replacement power sources could be the $2 billion Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 333-mile, 1,000-megawatt power line proposed to be run beneath the Hudson River from Quebec, Canada. It would carry mostly hydro-generated electricity.

A release from Cuomo's office mentions an unnamed project that would provide "clean, renewable hydropower able to replace up to 1,000 megawatts of power."

Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said during a press conference Monday that Indian Point's death knell came not from the state or environmentalists, but primarily from record low natural gas prices, thanks in part to the Marcellus shale formation.

Mohl said shale gas has driven power prices down by about 45 percent, or by about $36 per megawatt-hour, over the past 10 years to a record low of $28 per megawatt-hour.

A $10-per-megawatt-hour drop in power prices reduces annual revenue by approximately $160 million for nuclear plants such as Indian Point, he said.

"Up to this point, Indian Point has been a profitable unit," Mohl said. "But all things come to an end."

Mohl said serious talks on an agreement began in the past several weeks. He said the plant would eventually become a "greenfield site" that would be under perpetual security.

Mohl lamented that the market has not put a price on the value of nuclear energy and its low emissions and said the loss of nuclear power nationwide reduced the reliability and diversity of the country's energy portfolio.

The plant's $2.8 billion value is expected to take a $2.4 billion hit as a result of the planned closure, bringing it down to $440 million, according to Entergy.

Entergy says it expects to take about $180 million in charges related to severance and employee-retention costs through 2021.

The company employs about 1,000 people at Indian Point, the majority of whom live in Dutchess, Orange and Westchester counties.

(c)2017 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.