As the home to more than 8 million households and 2 million small businesses, New York needs consistent, reliable, and affordable electric power 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. And, with the establishment of the Clean Energy Standard in 2016, New York also needs its electricity to be clean and, increasingly, renewable.
Our state’s energy portfolio is clearly changing, and change creates both opportunity and risk. The opportunity to develop ever-increasing capacity in solar, wind, hydroelectric, and other renewables is exciting, but we must also take into account the risks we face. One risk is that while we’re waiting for these exciting new generation sources to mature, we’ll be adding millions of tons of carbon dioxide to our air; another risk is that we make ourselves vulnerable to inherent weaknesses in renewable generation.
Here’s how that undesirable intermediate stage is already threatening New Yorkers: it was announced last month that downstate’s Indian Point nuclear plant will be closing as early as 2021. Clearly market and regulatory forces both led to this conclusion, while implacable pressure from opponents also played a role in state policy regarding the plant throughout its license renewal process over the past ten years. The “environmentalists” who consider this a victory expect that Indian Point will promptly be replaced by renewables.
The reality is much different, as the long history of delays and disappointments for wind and solar projects from the shores of Lake Erie to the fields of central New York make clear. The “Not In My Back Yard” objectors assure that it will take many years to develop wind and solar capacity sufficient to accommodate baseload needs—the kind of electricity that powers entire communities and industries–across the state.
Closing Indian Point will deprive us of nearly one-third of our state’s zero-carbon electricity, and the gap it leaves will be filled by fossil fuels, largely natural gas, until we have enough renewables to equal Indian Point’s generation. Even then, we need to plan for the variability of wind and solar according to weather conditions, so that we’re not vulnerable to damaging outages–and that means we need to invest in new technology in energy storage, which is not nearly ready to fulfill baseload needs, and update our aged transmission lines.
Realistically, New York may never be able to rely solely on renewables for all of its enormous and growing power needs. That’s why it’s so important for us to look now at the energy sources we have, including our remaining nuclear fleet, and the sources that are abundant and independent of weather, including natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and create a sturdy, versatile, and balanced portfolio that will last for decades to come.