New York Urgently Needs To Confront the Contradiction of Trying To Electrify Everything While Also Eliminating Fossil Fuels

New York Urgently Needs To Confront the Contradiction of Trying To Electrify Everything While Also Eliminating Fossil Fuels

The following post was written jointly by Jane Menton and Francis Menton:

In New York, politicians are selling the public a narrative that electricity is going to be the solution to climate change. We will eliminate all CO2 emissions by banning gasoline-powered cars, banning natural gas infrastructure, banning gas heat in buildings, and banning gas for cooking.  All of these are to be replaced with supposedly “green,” emissions-free, alternatives – which in practice consist of only one thing, electricity.  We’ve been told that this is how we are going to protect the planet for future generations.

But there is nothing emissions-free about the way electricity is currently generated in New York.  About half of our electricity comes now, as it traditionally has, from burning fossil fuels.  New York has announced plans to eliminate those from electricity generation by 2030, but as of now has no realistic plan to replace them.  Meanwhile, it is forcing its citizens to convert essential systems like heating to electricity, with no basis to believe that the electricity will be available to prevent people from freezing in the winter only a few years from now.  This is a glaring contradiction, that needs urgently to be addressed before we suffer a self-inflicted catastrophe.

At present, fossil fuels are critical to our generation of electricity.  According to the most recent data from the federal government’s Energy Information Administration, in 2021 New York got some 46% of its electricity from burning natural gas and another 1% from fuel oil, and almost all of the rest from either nuclear (25%) or hydropower (23%, most of which comes from Niagara Falls).  Non-hydro “renewables” (wood, wind and solar) provided only about 6% in total, and about 2% of that was from wood.  After decades of hype about their wondrous future, wind and solar provided only about 4%.  And in 2021, the state closed the Indian Point nuclear plant, replacing its output almost entirely with natural gas generation, meaning that the percent of our electricity supply coming from fossil fuels is now up near 50% today.

If more electricity is needed, the options are few. New nuclear plants face vociferous opposition from environmentalists, with almost no prospect that that can be overcome. A completely finished nuclear plant called Shoreham sits idle on Long Island, having never been approved for commercial operation in the face of vigorous environmental opposition. As to hydropower, we do not have another Niagara Falls. Wind and solar produce remarkably small amounts after decades of hype and massive subsidies; and what they do produce is intermittent and often unavailable when most needed on the hottest and coldest days. The last option, natural gas – the one that is available, scalable, and actually works – is the one our politicians are pledging to eliminate without anything to replace it.

In the face of this generation picture, the State and New York City are proceeding with proposed electricity mandates that will have the effect of greatly increasing demand for the power. This will either require scaling up our electric grid to match that need or else leaving people without functioning infrastructure.  Policies already in place in New York City require electrification of cars, heat, and cooking, aiming for widespread conversion by 2035, and continuing thereafter.  A piece in the Daily News on June 3 includes a projection from National Grid (one of our utilities) that the State will need to increase the capacity of the grid by 57% by 2035, and 100% by 2050.

In scenarios where people’s cars, heat, cooking and more are all entirely dependent on reliable electricity, ensuring that our electricity sources are adequate and reliable is critical to the functioning of everyday life. Yet, even as our government is rapidly rolling out electrification mandates, it is simultaneously closing the biggest piece of our reliable generation.

New York is Exhibit A of a current crisis-in-waiting. At the State level, Governor Hochul has committed to closing all of the State’s fossil fuel electricity plants by 2030.  Current  New York State summer installed capacity is 37,520 MW, or 37.5 GW.  Of that, about 60%, or more than 22 GW, consists of natural gas facilities, which are capable of running nearly all the time and ramping up to maximum output when most needed.  Based on National Grid’s projection of 57% increased demand by 2035, New York should be planning to have 37.5 GW x 1.57, or almost 59 GW of always-available capacity on hand by that year.  Yet the only significant plans for additional capacity by 2035 consist of about 9 GW of offshore wind, and another 1.25 GW to come from a transmission line to bring hydropower from Quebec.  (In recent weeks, all of the offshore wind developers have demanded major contract price increases of 50% and up, failing which they threaten to walk off the job.)

Something here does not remotely add up.  If New York state succeeds by 2030 in closing its natural gas plants — the plants that account for 60% of the State’s generation capacity — that would bring our total installed capacity down from 37.5 GW to as little as 15 GW. But we need almost 60 GW to meet projected demand.  And that’s 60 GW that can be called on any time as needed to meet peak usage.  The 9 GW of projected offshore wind turbines wouldn’t make much of a dent even if they operated all the time and could be dispatched to meet peak demand, which they can’t.  Instead, they will operate only about a third of the time, and at their own whim.  At best they will provide about 3 GW on average, when what we need for this full electrification project is more like 45 GW of dispatchable power to add to our existing hydro and nuclear.

The New York Independent System Operator, which is well aware of this gigantic contradiction, talks vaguely of something they call a “dispatchable emissions-free resource” to fill the enormous gap.  Other than nuclear, which is blocked, that is something that is a pure fantasy and does not exist.

Our State’s and City’s proposed plans are putting New Yorkers on a path to catastrophe, with greatly increased dependence on electricity, but without nearly enough of the stuff to function at even the current usage level.  New York City got a huge lesson on dependence on electricity from Hurricane Sandy a decade ago, when a week-long blackout left people in high-rises without elevator service and without water.  Now they plan to add all heat, cooking, and transportation to the things that absolutely require electricity.  In that world, insufficient electricity becomes a humanitarian crisis.

It is high time for the politicians writing electricity mandates to demonstrate that it is even possible to build and scale an emission-free grid, one that is dispatchable (meaning it will work when we need it), reliable, and resilient. In today’s world, no demonstration of such a grid exists anywhere in the world.

If these mandates are allowed to go forward unabated, the real cost of will be the impoverishment of communities and destruction of quality of life. It’s up to us to realize we’re being sold a false narrative and to stop playing along.


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