Fact Sheet 14
What´s Wrong With Power Plants?
They are not sustainable
Power plants use fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which
are finite in supply. These fuels cause a variety of health and
environmental problems and are not a long-term solution to energy needs.
As these fuels become harder to find, prices will rise and political
problems associated with market manipulation from domestic and overseas
sources will only increase.
Power plants use water for cooling - up to a billion gallons each day!
As this water is discharged back to the river, thermal (heat) pollution
occurs. This plume of warmer water can create ice-free pockets in
winter, which can attract and then trap many species when the flow slows
or stops. In summer, the hot water can add to eutrophication
(oxygen-deficiency) in the river, choking fish and aquatic life. Heavy
metals and chlorine in cooling water discharges are also having a
negative effect on river life.
The Hudson River is an estuarine nursery for many ocean fish species.
There are millions of tiny fish eggs, larvae, and very young fish
essentially adrift in the water, and hence extremely vulnerable to power
plant cooling water intakes. These small animals are often killed by
the passage through a plant´s cooling system. In certain species,
reports document up to 60% mortality in a given year´s newborn fish
stock due to power plants. Adult fish are also trapped and pinned to
intake screens by the force of the suction.
Power plants burn fossil fuels. Coal-fired plants, even with the most
modern technology using low-sulfur coal, are the single most significant
source of acid rain, which has left hundreds of lakes across New York
and New England unable to sustain life. Acid rain is also causing
profound changes in forest ecology. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power
plants vie with automobiles as the leading causes of smog, which affects
the health of millions of people. Power plants emit mercury, a
neurotoxin that is now found in all our waterways, as well as millions
of tons of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas and
contributor to global climate change. These plants also emit arsenic,
beryllium, cadmium, chromium, and nickel.
Impacts on scenic, historic and cultural resources
Power plants are massive industrial complexes, with buildings, stacks,
and other structures on a scale that often dwarfs everything nearby.
Because of this, power plants can be seen from far away, and they can
irreparably harm viewsheds that are highly valued by society. Nearby
homes and sites of historic significance are devalued because of the
plant´s inappropriate size, use, and architecture. Cooling tower
plumes, while only water vapor, create yet another visual impact that
many communities find troubling.
New power plants continue the cycles of fossil fuel dependency and
rising electricity demand, making the problem worse, not better
Each new power plant makes more power available to the marketplace -
power that is artificially cheap because environmental, health, and
infrastructure costs are not accounted for in the price of the fuel.
Society picks up the tab for all these costs, called `externalities.´
All too often, these externalities include, and will continue to
include, overseas conflict with oil-rich nations. As long as energy is
readily available from fossil fuels, society has few incentives to
conserve or to find more sustainable substitutes. Feeding short-term
demand by increasing fossil fuel power production does not provide a
long-term solution. Conservation, energy efficiency increases, and
development of renewable power sources are the only real ways to break
our unsustainable energy consumption and production cycles.
The current power plant siting process is not protecting communities or
No new power plant is going to be accepted by every member of a host
community, and there will always be some opposition. But developers and
their allies dismiss the legitimate concerns of local residents with
accusations of `NIMBY´-ism (Not In My Backyard), raising larger-scale
policy concerns associated with plant siting.
Too often, plants are sited in poor communities, or communities of
color. Plants need cooling water, and the Hudson River is facing a very
disproportionate share of the permit applications because of its
proximity to New York City. Old industrial sites - preferably outdated,
dirty power plants - should always be the site of choice over a
`greenfield´ - a site that is in its natural condition. The universe of
community concerns, including environmental and health-related issues,
must never be dismissed without an extremely compelling case for power
need. Current Article X siting laws do not require any demonstration of
need. Siting laws also override community development designs and
planning, and do not require an environmental impact statement.
Secondary effects from pipelines, power lines, development, and
Many of the Hudson River sites in permit review today cannot deliver
their power to New York City, where it is most needed. Hence, it is
widely expected that where power plants go, high-voltage power lines
will soon follow, marching unopposed across the landscape with the right
of eminent domain. Natural gas pipelines, and increasingly, port
facilities will have to be built to serve the new generation of
clean-burning combined-cycle gas turbines. And where both gas and
electricity become available, development follows, leading regional
planners to become concerned about new corridors of development and
sprawl. Finally, in considering the `life-cycle´ impacts of fossil
fuel use, one must also acknowledge the profound environmental, health
and social effects of fossil fuel extraction, from wells to pipelines to
Nuclear power is NOT the solution!
Nuclear power has proven to be an extremely expensive technology with
serious health and environmental concerns. Nuclear facilities have
regular releases of low-level radiation, which is believed by some
experts to cause significant health problems. Hudson Valley residents
should be concerned about the possibility of catastrophic accident and
the lack of viable evacuation plans for the Indian Point reactors.
Finally, there is no safe way to store nuclear wastes, which can remain
dangerous for thousands of years.