LETTER from WAYNE MELLOR
With renewable energy, details are key
New York state passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019. The law will propel New York towards a climate change friendly economy that will rely much less on burning fossil fuels for energy by 2050.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan is ambitious. It calls for an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, and 70% renewable energy by 2030.
In 2020, New York derived approximately 0.1% of its electricity from petroleum, 1% from coal, 36% from natural gas, 30% from nuclear, 26% hydroelectric, 5% wind and solar and 2% biomass.
The shut down of the Indian Point nuclear plant on the Hudson River, completed in April 2021, decreases carbon-free nuclear power to 20% of the state total and increases greenhouse gas emitting natural gas to 46%, with two new natural gas plants in Orange and Dutchess Counties now operating.
This doesn’t make sense if carbon-free electricity is the goal.
All electricity generating sources have a nameplate capacity that defines its maximal output and a capacity factor that accounts for the various efficiencies of the source, downtime needed for maintenance, or with renewables, the percent of time on average that the sun shines and the wind blows.
Nuclear has a capacity factor of 90%, combined cycle natural gas about 50%, hydro 40%, solar in the northeast about 18% (5% in winter), on shore wind 30%, off shore wind 50% and the burning of petroleum distillates and older natural gas plants, less than 15%.
The higher and more consistent the capacity factor, the better the source for “base load” generation, the bulwark of consistent power on the grid.
For generations, New York has relied on nuclear, the massive hydropower plants at Robert Moses Niagara and Massena and pumped hydro storage facilities at Lewiston and Gilboa to balance out the base-load for the state’s electricity needs.
The building of 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind off Long Island began in 2021. This will greatly increase renewable production and may eventually replace up to a third of the state’s natural gas electricity generation with sufficient battery storage and a proven 50% capacity factor. However, there is a catch for solar and wind on land.
It takes up to 30 acres of land here to produce one megawatt of solar power in winter. The equivalent acreage for wind is 85. Replacing Indian Point requires either 60,000 acres of solar panels or a wind farm stretching about 170,000 acres.
Meeting the CLCPA goals of a 70% renewable portfolio of electrical energy sources will require vast amounts of land for additional “on-shore” solar and wind installations. Additionally huge amounts of power storage will need to be available 24/7 when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind stops blowing. At this time there is no plan or proven battery backup system to dispatch enough energy to power the grid over a period of days. At best it is a few hours presently.
Otsego County and other rural areas with cheaper land will continue to see large wind and solar development proposals like the recent West Laurens solar farm. It is incumbent on our towns to recognize this and have land use laws in place to protect the economic and environmental interests of our local communities with an eye to carbon free electricity.