Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Subways of New York and Indian Point

 Grandma on the Subway

I just came back from a trip to New York City, where I hung out with my grandson.  One thing my grandson and I did together was take the subway to his day camp in the morning. I chose to visit at the last minute, so he was enrolled in camp for part of the day. If the parents had known I was coming, I could have spent more time with him.  He wouldn't have been in camp. Ah well.

So, there I was on the subway, thinking a bit, especially on the way home, after dropping him off at day camp. One of the things I thought about was the Indian Point nuclear plant.  It makes over 2000 MW of power and that power is widely described as the power that runs the New York subways.

When I think about the New York. subways, I am always amazed at how inexpensive and effective they are.  All these trains, all those people, so fast!  All electric. Most or all of the power coming from Indian Point.

Nobody on the subway probably knows that the power for the subways comes from Indian Point.  They may read an article in the Times or the Post or see something on TV about Indian Point, but they don't know much about it.  I bet that most subway riders don't think that Indian Point's inexpensive, reliable, non-polluting power makes any difference to their own lives.

I wish I could change that.

Advertising on the Subways of New York

There's a place above the windows of a subway cars where there's usually some advertising (the same is true on most buses).  In most New York subway cars, the entire car was advertisements from one company.  For example, a life insurance company might have all the ads.  So the first ad would be "insurance you can afford" next to another ad that said "don't get high blood pressure worrying about health insurance" next to an ad that urged you to "see the best doctors in New York on our plan."  (I am paraphrasing, of course.) The statements were short and positive, and the cumulative effect was greater than any of the individual statements.

I was especially amused by one subway car that contained  advertisements for New York Yankees Fragrances. Some ads encouraged you to show that you are a Yankees fan by buying these products.  Other ads noted that there were Yankees perfumes for men and women.  Another ad included a picture of a ballplayer in the dugout.  Again, each message was short, but the cumulative effect was great.

I decided that Indian Point should advertise on the subway.  Each ad could be short and sweet.
  • Indian Point Energy runs this subway!  
  • Indian Point: adding more than  half a billion a year to the New York economy! 
  • Indian Point: reliable and inexpensive.  
  • Indian Point:  less radiation to the public than they would get walking through Grand Central Station.
  • Indian Point: safe for the community.
  • Indian Point: Green Energy avoiding so many tons of greenhouse gases a year.  
I think it would be a great campaign. Of course, I thought of it so I think it's great....

Take the Bus?

While I was thinking, I thought about buses. What if there weren't any subways in New York or if the subway electricity costs were dependent on "cheap natural gas"and natural gas does one of its periodic price doublings?

As I was heading out with the grandson one morning, my son-in-law said: "You can take the bus if you want. If you don't like the subway." Luckily, I like the subway.

Imagine the greenhouse gases if everyone in New York was taking the bus. It's an appalling thought. Those subway trains are sometimes twenty cars long (or longer) and often packed with people.  Putting all those people on surface transportation would be horrific. The city would practically close down.

The streets and sidewalks of New York would be impassable and impossible without the subway.  All hail to the subways and to Indian Point for providing the power!

Now, we have to figure out a way to tell the subway riders about the role of nuclear energy in their lives.


Reference needed: I tried to find a truly authoritative reference on the amount of power used by the subways, and the agreements they might have with Indian Point.  I couldn't find it easily and I hope my readers will help me if they know of this.

Harlem School of the Arts: Our grandson was going to day camp at the Harlem School of the Arts. The grandkids go for a week or two at a time: our granddaughter went earlier this summer.  It's a great place and the kids really enjoy the camp. Harlem School of the Arts is mainly a theater and arts school for older children, but it has many outreach programs in the summer.

Children and subways.  First, when traveling with a four-year-old, always take the local train because the four-year-old is eager to read the numbers that describe the stations. 135th Street was my grandson's favorite, because it is a big number and his stop was next, at 145th.  Second, I was amazed how many children I saw on the subway. They were traveling with their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, or they were in groups of children. I saw a far higher percentage of children on the subways of New York City than I do at the average grocery store or park in Vermont. Of course, the state of Vermont has the second-highest median age in the nation.  (Florida is fifth-highest, in case you were wondering.)  Not so many children up here in Vermont.


Howard Shaffer said...

Great post. Great ideas on advertising.

Atomikrabbit said...

Meredith - Of course once electricity gets onto the grid it is fungible, but the estimates I continually hear are that Indian Point supplies 25-30% of the power for Westchester County and NYC. Entergy was supposed to have launched a media blitz starring Rudy Guilliani, but I have seen little of it. Advertising on the subways, with a captive audience who knows very well that their safety and convenience is enabled through dependable, efficient baseload electricity would seem like a no-brainier to me. Why it is not - has not - been done is one of those inexplicable mysteries of life - like why New Yorkers keep electing Cuomos.

Space Fission said...

In Nov 2010 Gwyneth Cravens and I wrote an OP Ed in the New York Daily News about Indian Point.

We also tried to get to the issue of how much electricity is supplied to the trains.

It turns out there is a much larger number. All of the commuter rail lines coming into NYC from NY, NJ, and CT are electrified and run on power from the twin reactors.

We did determine that 5.1 million people depend on these rail lines on a daily basis.

Rod Adams said...

I used to ride the Metro in Washington, DC. quite frequently. There are many energy related ads on the trains and in the stations, but most of the ones I have seen have been promoting natural gas. For example, here is a post about a visit to the station that is most likely to be visited by a Congressional staffer:

Meredith Angwin said...

Dan and Rod and Howard and Atomikrabbit

Thank you all for your comments!

Rod and Dan...those are very important links. I am glad you shared them. Dan and Gwyneth point out HOW many electric rail lines there are in the metropolitan area, and how many people ride them. Rod's pictures of the related signs truly illustrate what the best subway signs are like, much better than my description. Look at his pictures. Also, as he says, in the city, on the subway, we do this "avoid eye contact" thing sometimes, which means we do look at the signs.

Okay. I know there's no "nuclear industry" that supports advertising the way the natural gas industry supports it. But still. Advertising about an individual power plant should be an obvious choice, if the power plant is making money and the company wants to keep it running!. The company can be running other types of power plants, and still advertise in favor of some of them without that being an insult to the other plants. At least, that is how I see it.

Rod Adams said...


Here is another link to a Shell ad I saw in a Metro station.

Reese said...

I second what Mr. Shaffer said. What a swell post. So personal, I get a feeling I know you.

Also, what Atomikrabbit said about fungible grid. Out here, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) owns a 20% stake in Palo Verde. Almost all the rest is coal. (We have some silly windmills out along I-40 and US-60 east of here on the Staked Plain.) (Wow, two uses of the word "stake" in one paragraph.)

I pay my electric bill to Central New Mexico Electric, a rural "co-op," but every day I follow my power lines into Albuquerque, which is PNM. So I don't know how that works.

Where I work, a satellite campus of Sandia National Labs, we have these little Gem electric cars. Are they really electric, or coal powered? Are they 20% nuclear? Can I think of them as wind powered or nuclear powered? Depends on my mood when I check one out to tool over to the main campus.

Speaking of advertising, the Sierra Club does it every day on local radio, "Tell PNM to close the dirty Four Corners coal power station and switch to solar. For the children." Yeah. Right.

(I paraphrase.)

Anyway, like I said, swell post.

Roger Witherspoon said...

It's a great post, but wrong. The accurate sources are ConEd and NYPA. Indian Point contributes little to the subway, and only 5% to the electric needs of NYC and Westchester County.
Con Ed distributes all of the electricity in this region, buying it from a variety of sources. It has some 4 million residential customers. ConEd buys just 360 MW from Indian Point. The New York Power Authority has the government contracts -- the subways, LaGuardia, housing authority, bd of ed, etc.The trains, according to NYPA, use 630 MW. NYPA buys just 200 MW from Indian Point. That's 560 MW out of 13,000 used daily. Entergy sells the rest on an interconnected market stretching from Maine to Ohio. For More, see: The notion that IP keeps the trains running and provides 30% of the electricity used in NYC/Westchester was never true. - Roger Witherspoon

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you for your positive comments on my blog. I am not usually so personal in what I write, and it is nice to get positive feedback on being a bit more personal.

About the electric cars. Luckily, around here, with Vermont Yankee, in-state hydro power, and Hydro Quebec, we have low-carbon electricity, so an electric car would be a good thing. Near Four Corners, maybe it would not be so much of a good thing!


Thank you for your comments (and your email to me expanding on them). I am grateful for the time you took to gather the data together.

However, after reading your blog, it seemed clear to me you are opposed to continued Indian Point operation. In general terms, we must agree to disagree. However, we can talk about some specifics.

Specifically, your blog post states that Entergy is selling only 560 MW under contract to identifiable New York City customers. You conclude from this that Indian Point's share of the New York City Area electricity supply has fallen from 22% of the local power supply to 5%. You make a similar statement in your comment on this post. (I have not attempted to verify or dispute your numbers. Just in case a bunch of readers weigh in with some other numbers! It happens...)

However, your statement about the low percentage of power that IP provides shows a fundamental mis-intrepetation or misunderstanding of how the grid works. In reality, power is routed only by physical entities, not by contracts. If Indian Point supplies 20% of the local power, it KEEPS supplying that percentage of local power, no matter how the power sales contracts are written. Indian Point power does not begin shooting down the lines to Delaware because of a change in power contracts.

After a change in contracts, IP power goes the same places it has always gone...basically, load that is as close to the generator as possible (via transmission lines). Where the power goes depends on the load, the transmission lines and the geography. It does not depend on the contracts.

The whole power purchase thing is odd. If I buy a tomato, I pay for that tomato, then I eat that very same tomato. This is our mental model for all sales transactions. The model breaks down completely for electricity, however, which is what Atomikrabbit meant by "power is fungible" on the grid.

I wrote an op-ed that covered power and power purchases recently, and I think I better put it up as a blog post pretty soon.

I appreciate your research into NYPA and Con Ed contracts. Thank you very much for sharing it with the readers of this blog.

Roger W said...

The reason Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, does not advertise as you suggest in the subway system is because it would be false advertising and they would face legal action as a result. They spend a lot of money on pr campaigns elsewhere but stick mostly to safe/secure/vital without going into details that could get them in trouble for the same reason.

You are confusing capacity and usage for both Indian Point and Vermont Yankee. No electricity from Vt. Yankee is used in the state of Vermont as a matter of a policy decision on the part of the state. The fact that their capacity equals 30% of electricity generated in the state is irrelevant.

It is the same with Indian Point. Mathew Wald had an article in the NYT today stating that the daily load of NYC/Westchester gird is about 13,000MW in the summer. 30% of that would be 3,900MW, far exceeding the 2,060MW capacity of Indian Point. So where does the myth that Indian Point provides 25 to 30% of the electricity for my grid come from? Wishful thinking on the part of Entergy perhaps?

Marilyn Elie
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition

Meredith Angwin said...

Roger Witherspoon emailed me as follows.

You are wrong on all counts.
1. I have never written anything calling for IP's license to be denied. Nor have I ever written anything opposing nuclear power.

I apologize for mis-interpretting his blog post on his site. I thought it was very negative toward Indian Point, and against renewing the IP license. However, in my own defense, I will say that I wrote nothing about whether he supported or opposed nuclear power. I only mis-interpretted his attitude toward Indian Point.

The rest of Witherspoon's email was about electricity markets, and he is incorrect about the grid. I am not quoting that part. However, since I gave offense in public in mis-interpretting his blog post, I choose to apologize in public, also.

Meredith Angwin said...

Roger W (who is identified by blogger as Roger Witherspoon) sent a comment above, but the comment was signed (I think) by Marilyn Elie. I find this a little confusing, but at any rate, the comment itself is a mish-mash of confusion about electricity terms.

Capacity, electricity generated, electricity purchased and electricity usage are so smushed together in the comment that it would take me a blog post to un-entangle them, and I have an appointment that will last all day today, starting at 9 a.m. Okay.

So basically, please note that electricity is fungible on the grid, and electricity is (basically) used near its source, so Indian Point electricity still goes to the New York and Westchester areas, no matter how the power contracts are written. Electrons can't read contracts.

Also, by picking the hottest day of the year when many many old, expensive and supplemental plants are operating, you can make any base load plant look like it is supplying only a small percent of the electric load. It's supplying a low percentage of the load...for that few hours of high demand. This is a simple trick to make baseload plants look un-important, but New Yorkers, who ride the subways night and day, can see through it.

Rock The Reactors said...

Indian Point is too much of a risk. We need to learn to do without, and there are plenty of potential alternatives out there. Since humanity only reacts to crisis, these alternatives will not be properly developed until there is an immediate need for them, so by shutting down Indian Point, we'll force the baby to swim, and that's a good thing.

Tom Clegg said...

Meredith now you see some of the characters I have to deal with. Roger Witherspoon might have gotten in touch with you and told you he is not against nuclear power. Google or Yahoo his name and read his articles on Indian Point. The one I like the best was the 500 mile danger zone if anything happened at IP. As for Marilyn Elien. She is a librarian for the Yorktown school district. She lives about 5 miles from IP. So she is not so much an Anti-Nuke as a not in my backyard! Shutting down IP is like a religion to her. She only hears what she wants to. Yes I have gone nose to nose with her rebutted her lies. She just gets mad and walks away. She and most of her friends have no backgroung in nuclear. They just say what they hear if it suits their agenda. Be prepared she will E-Mail all her close Indian Point friends,Like rock the reactor and they will send you close Indian Point E-Mails. Notice rock the reactor says the best way to do things is close IP then we will be forced to come up with a solution. Funny how he helps by using his computer, his modem, his screen. All powered by IP. As for the trains being powered by IP. That is because when the state owned IP3 they entered in to a contract to sell the MTA(subway,trains) at a certain price. I do Know Entergy when they purchased IP3 still had to honor that contract. I do not know if that contract has expired.

Meredith Angwin said...


I had a suspicion I was beginning to hear from the "usual suspects" about Indian Point, the equivalent of the people who show up at every meeting about Vermont Yankee. Thanks for your information!

Kit P said...

Friday we took the subway to Coney Island. Frankly after 40 years of working in nuclear power, I found connecting nuclear power to the subway a bit of stretch of logic. The same way wind and solar advocates make when discussing BEV.

Reality check! I have yet to find a big city that is not a filthy cesspool. They all have the same thing in common. Too many cars and too many people. After dropping off our youngest to start his freshman year at college we continued up to NYC. When I go to the big city, I park the car and take public transportation. The biggest problem in any city is too many cars and not enough parking.

It would be easy to get the idea that those watermelons who promote taking public transportation just to want more parking for themselves. I saw not BEV in NYC. On the street where our daughter live an apartment was for sale at a $ million+. No parking space for a BEV changing station.

So on practical matters. How do you provide power to NYC? Putting a coal plant next to the Statue of Liberty would be just another eyesore. Who would notice?

The nice thing about working in nuclear power is not having to live near a big city. On our visit to NYC the topic of nuclear power came up. Being the out of town hicks, a professional man about my age asked what I did for a living. He then asked how many kids we had. He was surprised that we were able to have children. Before I could explain that nuclear power was safe, he had to excuse himself to have a smoke.

The bottom line is that electricity allows a productive society where people can live in comport without providing their own energy. It also provides lots of free time and some will be against the means to an end. Our oldest asked if we want to see a Broadway show. What and miss the free drama that going for a walk provides!