The people in Mass Hall must have breathed a sigh of relief. For almost two years environmentalists had been asking Harvard to voice opposition to a power plant proposed by Consolidated Edison for Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., and for two years the University had been avoiding the move.
But the conflict now has returned to New York, carried by a study prepared by New York City's Environmental Protection Agency.
The environmentalists' reasoning in approaching the University was simple: Harvard is a prestigious institution, one not easily bullied even by a utility giant such as Consolidated Edison. Harvard owns 300 acres of land crucial to the project. And if Harvard were to announce its opposition and a steadfast refusal to sell, Con Ed might just pack up and go home.
The closest the University came was a statement earlier this fall announcing it would not consider selling its land unless under direct threat of successful legal action from the utility. And the reasoning here, too, was clear: After spending over $20 million fighting environmentalists in and out of court for ten years, Con Ed would steamroller anything in its path--even Harvard--as it approached the end of a long, bumpy legal road.
The deciding factor may be not the environmental objections to the project, but an economic and practical obsolescence that has developed over the ten-year delay.
New York City's Environmental Protection Administration has prepared an unreleased report, obtained this week by The Crimson, which indicates the utility would save between 28.1 million and 30.9 million barrels of fuel, along with $115 million and $265 million in costs, by building an alternative to the Storm King plant in Cornwall.
The alternative would be a gas turbine system, which would provide a quick energy reserve and steam heat as well. It would be cheaper to build, says the EPA, cheaper to operate, cheaper to transmit the power. It could be built in New York City, or at other satellite cCon Ed installations. And it would leave Storm King Mountain alone.
Con Ed had hoped that it could build enough nuclear power plants to drive Storm King's pumps, but EPA projected that because of "licensing and other problems," which have mired the nuclear projects in a swamp of delays, the drive would have to come from fossil fuel--increasingly expensive, and in short supply.
At the end of the week, Con Ed said it was studying the proposal in order to prepare a detailed response.
The utility might also find itself responding to a new study by the Atomic Energy Commission's Oak Ridge Laboratories, which debates the utility's earlier estimates of what the Storm King plant could do to the Hudson's fish population.
Con Ed and the Federal Power Commission have claimed the plant would kill 3 per cent of the striped bass hatch yearly; the AEC study, released this week by Sen. Abraham S. Ribicoff (D-Conn.) estimates a 25 per cent to 75 per cent annual kill.
"It appears obvious," Ribicoff said, "that the utility and the Federal Power Commission clearly underestimated the potential damage at Storm King."
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