(Reuters) - New York state environmental regulators are proposing shutting the giant Indian Point nuclear power plant to protect fish in the Hudson River during summer months, when demand for electricity for air-conditioning is greatest.
The 2,061-megawatt plant, located about 40 miles north of Manhattan, provides about a quarter of the power used in the New York City area.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation proposed closing the plant for an average of 42 days during prime fish migrations between May 10 and August 10, according to a document dated in May posted on the DEC website.
The DEC said in an email that the proposal, which will be discussed in a public meeting on Tuesday, is similar to what Consolidated Edison Inc did when it owned the reactors and is consistent with the practice of other facilities on the Hudson.
"This would not curtail operations this summer," the DEC said, noting it would give Entergy and other organizations responsible for the reliability of the state's power grid enough time to ensure that the outage plan does not disrupt power supplies.
The DEC proposal is the latest salvo in a lengthy battle between Entergy Corp, which owns Indian Point and wants to keep the plant operating for another 20 years, and state environmental regulators, who are seeking to protect fish and other aquatic life.
Indian Point withdraws up to 2.5 billion gallons of water per day from the Hudson to cool equipment, and then discharges that water back into the river a little warmer than before.
Environmental groups and the DEC have long argued that Indian Point's water intake system kills about a billion fish, fish eggs and larvae each year, and the plant should install cooling towers to reduce the use of river water by recycling it.
Entergy argues that cooling towers are too expensive, with an estimated cost of up to $2 billion and likely could not enter service before 2029. Instead it has proposed installing a Wedgewire screen system to protect the fish. The company said the screens would save more fish as it would take only about three years to install at a cost of up to $250 million.
"Wedgewire screen technology is more effective over time and far less disruptive than a massive cooling tower and forced outages," Entergy said in a statement on Monday.
Business and labor groups supporting the continued operation of Indian Point last week sent an open letter to the DEC, urging the state to drop its "forced outage" proposal.
"The DEC proposal would mean lost jobs, higher electricity prices, significantly lower electric reliability and vast economic uncertainty," New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, the pro Indian Point group, said in a statement.
NY AREA said the DEC proposal will "spawn more environmental problems than it will solve," in part because it would require utilities to burn more fossil fuels, producing carbon and other harmful emissions. Nuclear plants produce minimal emissions.
Entergy filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew the operating licenses for the two Indian Point reactors in 2007.
The units can continue to operate under existing licenses until the NRC completes the relicensing process, which Entergy has said could take until 2018. Unit 2's license expired in 2013 and Unit 3's will expire in 2015.
Before the NRC can grant new licenses, the state must approve water permits.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; editing by Gunna Dickson)