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The Partial Observer by Dennis Higgins

Flawed Energy Plan Moves Forward

Legislation proposed in Albany would create “RAPID,” a new department in the Office of Renewable Energy Siting to accelerate transmission buildout. Per megawatt-hour—amount of energy moved—those new lines will be very expensive. We must build full nameplate transmission for wind, which has a capacity factor under 25 percent. Solar has a capacity factor of under 14 percent: Although full capacity generation might occur mid-day in summer, much of the rest of the time solar yields little or no energy. Transmission for hundreds of solar and wind resources represents a lot of expensive wire to buy and install and maintain; wire which will need to be run across private land; wire that mostly will move nothing at all.

With each of New York’s staggering missteps in decarbonization efforts, we reflect on the mess we’re in. ORES itself has stalled out in efforts to site intermittent resources. Solar and wind builders cancelled contracts late last year when the state would not simply award them more money. They are rebidding, and the state will make new, more expensive, awards. Upstate communities are pushing back at the state’s efforts to locate solar and wind projects where local laws say “no” to industrial development.

New York gets about 20 percent of its baseload energy from hydroelectric on the St. Lawrence and Niagara rivers. Solar and wind currently account for about 7 percent of total state electricity. The fast approaching 70-by-30 goal in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires that 70 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewables. In other words, 50 percent of the state’s capacity must come from solar and wind. The state must multiply all the installed solar and wind built over the last 20 or more years by seven- or eight-fold in the next six years. Hochul has no ruby slippers and no magic wand, so press releases can safely be ignored. The 70-by-30 CLCPA goal is not going to happen.

Still, the state has decided lack of transmission must be the culprit. Let’s take a closer look at some of the problems with the state plan.

In its 20-year “Outlook” report, the grid operator NYISO detailed transmission constraints across Long Island, the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. These will prevent energy moving from intermittent resources to downstate through this decade, and maybe the next. Can we fix the state plan by building high-voltage lines over rural New Yorkers’ objections to support energy resources that may never exist?

In its 2023 Power Trends, NYISO indicated that most—70 percent, or about 17,000 megawatts—of the state’s fossil-fuel capacity will need to be available after 2030. NYISO has already determined that peakers, which CLCPA says must be shut down, will need to be kept online. The storage projected in state planning, a hundred times the largest lithium-ion battery on earth and costing many billions of dollars, if fully charged, would not power New York City for a day. Alberta Canada, like Texas, recently issued energy alerts to its citizens as it discovered that wind power does not work well when it is very cold. Of course, solar generates almost nothing in the winter. Assuming we could get anyone in Albany to listen, is there some sort of broader lesson in all this?

California—following the same wacky blueprint New York is using—has had 20 years to build out its solar and wind assets, including transmission lines to move generated energy. California gets twice the electricity from every panel that New York could hope to get. California has deserts to site intermittent resources and transmission, while New York must sacrifice its farmland and forest. California exports solar to Nevada at a loss to avoid curtailment, yet still dumped something like three terawatt-hours of energy in 2023, enough to keep the lights on in New York City for a week. California has struggled to reduce reliance on fossil fuels: It has built new gas plants and still needs to import coal-fired electricity to ensure reliability.

The 2015 Mark Jacobson publication—which was in part the model for New York’s energy plan—was soundly debunked by about two dozen climate scientists two years before the CLCPA was enacted. The Jacobson paper is nevertheless a sort of bible to the Big Greens. As noted in MIT’s technology review, that paper “contained modeling errors and implausible assumptions that could distort public policy and spending decisions.” Consequently, the CLCPA and the resulting scoping plan, following similar flawed analysis, have already led to “wildly unrealistic expectations” and “massive misallocation of resources.” As MIT Press noted,

Jacobson and his coauthors dramatically miscalculated the amount of hydroelectric power available and seriously underestimated the cost of installing and integrating large-scale underground thermal energy storage systems…They treat U.S. hydropower as an entirely fungible resource. Like the amount [of power] coming from a river in Washington state is available in Georgia, instantaneously… https://www.technologyreview.com/2017/06/19/151141/in-sharp-rebuttal-scientists-squash-hopes-for-100-percent-renewables/)

Following this flawed plan, it always looks like there is a transmission problem, since the grid is not one big copper plate.

In fact, no new energy solution or gigantic storage mechanism is needed at all. New York only needs to look around the world at those places that have successfully decarbonized their grids. New York only needs to look in the mirror: the downstate grid is over 90 percent “dirty,” powered by gas and oil. Upstate is over 90 percent emission free, and like those large economies that have cut fossil-fuel use, it is powered by hydro and nuclear.

But don’t tell Albany: New York is intent on pursuing an expensive land-hungry plan which we already know will fail.

Dennis Higgins is a retired math/computer science professor. He and wife Katie run a farm in Otego and, as a family, they are committed to addressing climate change any way they can, including 20KW of solar panels, geothermal heat, all electric appliances, and driving an EV. Dennis has been engaged in regional energy issues for approximately 15 years.

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