top of page
  • Roger Witherspoon

Cooling system decision pending

By Roger Witherspoon

Plants may need to modify for safety of fish in Hudson

The Journal News

State environmental officials will cap three decades of debate in the fall by deciding

if the Hudson River can indefinitely sustain the annual loss of billions of fish and

plants, a byproduct of power plants' electric generating process, or if plant owners

must spend billions of dollars developing new cooling systems.

The decision will pit the economically unmeasurable value of the earliest part of the

river's food chain - baby fish, eggs, small plants and microscopic organisms - against

the economic interests of one of the region's major power resources. A state study

has found that the most ecologically sound cooling systems reduce a plant's

effectiveness, cutting available electricity during peak periods by 200 megawatts -

enough to power about 200,000 homes.

Environmental activists say the choice should be easy.

"You cannot measure the value of these resources," said David Gordon of the

environmental group Riverkeeper. "The Clean Water Act requires industries to use

the `best technology available to minimize adverse environmental impact.' Congress

made that decision in 1972. This is 30 years later, and it should have been done


The power industry contends that it is not harming the river to the extent claimed by


"Our studies indicate we have not impacted the adult populations on the river," said

Jim Steets, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the Indian Point

nuclear power plants in Buchanan. "If it has minimal impacts on the river, it seems

pointless to add a cooling system that would have different types of impacts, is

expensive, would reduce our output and add to electricity costs. It just doesn't make

any sense."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is under court order to decide

by Nov. 14 whether to issue discharge permits for Indian Point, the Bowline Point

Steam Electric Generating Station in West Haverstraw and the Roseton Generating

Station in Newburgh. The Clean Water Act requires industries to have permits to

pollute waterways, and the hot water discharged into the Hudson by these power

plants is considered a form of pollution.

The plants last received their five-year discharge permits in 1982 and have operated

without updated permits ever since, while the state studied the issue. Indian Point,

Roseton and Bowline are the first-, sixth-, and seventh-largest users of water in the

state, respectively, taking in 1.69 trillion gallons annually.

At issue is the "once through" system used to cool steam that turns the plants' giant

electric-generating turbines. The plants draw water directly from the river, pump it

through heat exchangers to cool the steam, and return the hot water to the river.

Power plants designed 30 to 40 years ago were sited on rivers because of the free

abundant water for cooling and the ability to conveniently deliver fuel by barge.

Back then, "Concerns regarding harmful impacts on fish populations were usually a

secondary consideration," said a final environmental impact statement released last

month by the DEC.

The DEC report found that studies of five of the more than 100 species of fish in the

Hudson showed that the power plants killed nearly 1.5 billion of those fish annually,

as well as fish eggs, larvae and plant life that are critical to the river's food chain.

The smallest organisms, which flow with the water into the cooling system, die as

the water is heated. Larger fish that get drawn into the plants are blocked by a

filtering system that eventually deposits them back into the river. The state found

that up to half of those fish die in the process from the force of the water pinning

them to the filters.

The plants also discharge heated water into the river, forming a thermal barrier that

some passing fish cannot survive, according to the state's analysis. Federal law

requires companies to use the "best technology available" to prevent fish and plants

from being killed inside their operations. There is a less stringent standard for

ecosystems damaged by the thermal discharge.

The DEC already has determined that the most effective remedy is to retrofit each

plant with a "closed-cycle" cooling system, the equivalent of an industrial radiator

that continually recycles the plants' cooling water. The recycled water would be

hotter than the fresh water from the river, though, and as a result, there would be a

decrease in plant efficiency ranging from 2.9 percent at Bowline to 7.3 percent at

Indian Point during peak periods.

"If you were to try and backfit a system like this, the costs would be enormous,"

Steets said. "They are probably prohibitive. It would cost several hundred million

dollars for cooling towers, and we would lose a lot of power."

Bowline spokesman Louis Friscoe said the closed-cycle system could not be applied

to every facility.

"We don't have available space for cooling-tower technology unless you start to fill

in the river to make land accessible to put a tower on, and that isn't likely." Friscoe

said. "You are talking about retrofitting an older plant, which is difficult, if not

impossible, to do."

Earlier this year, the DEC allowed the Lovett Generating Plant in Stony Point to

experiment with a Gunderboom in Tompkins Cove, a fine mesh screen designed to

block baby fish and fish eggs. Use of these screens, the state report said, is nearly as

effective as the closed-cycle cooling. As a result, the state has proposed granting the

Danskammer Generating Station in Newburgh a permit to use the screens for at least

five years, and may propose the same for the larger Hudson River plants.

"The experiment worked well enough that the state was convinced it was a viable

technology," said Friscoe, spokesman for the Mirant Corp., which owns both

Bowline and Lovett.

The experiment was not flawless, however. Barnacles and small plant life found the

mesh a perfect place to breed.

"In just 29 days, there was fouling on the Gunderbooms between 60 percent and 95

percent," Riverkeeper's Gordon said. "The experiment indicated to us that the

Gunderboom is going to fail over the long term."

Reach Roger Witherspoon at or 914-696-8566.

Recent Posts

See All

Dredging Dewatering Sites Picked

By Roger Witherspoon Download and/or Print Article Copyright 2004 The Journal News (Westerchester County, NY) The Journal News December 16, 2004 Thursday Pair of $30M plants will separate liquid from

Fed Rule on Plant Cooling Targeted

By Roger Witherspoon Download and/or Print Article Suit: EPA practice that lets power sites kill fish is illegal The Journal News Six states and a coalition of environmental groups filed court challe


bottom of page