New York’s Grid Operators: Cuomo’s Green Energy Plan Can’t Work

(REUTERS/David Gray)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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New York’s power grid regulator sharply criticized Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to boost state green energy use Thursday, arguing that adding more wind and solar goals will make it difficult to maintain grid reliability.

New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) said Cuomo’s plan would require the state build “nearly 1,000 miles of new bulk power transmission” to transport electricity from wind turbines and solar panels from upstate to market in New York City. The grid regulator noted Cuomo’s plan would require the state to triple its installed wind-energy capacity and add more solar panels in just 14 years than the combined capacity of Spain and Australia.

NYISO stated that “maintaining electric system reliability,” would require slowing the growth of green energy while “[r]etaining all existing nuclear generators” refuting Cuomo’s plan to close the nuclear plant at Indian Point, which provides up to one quarter of New York City’s electricity.

In early July, NYISO issued a public comment saying Cuomo’s plans would be hard to execute and could cause blackouts. New York currently gets less than 5 percent of its electricity from wind and solar, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Richard Kauffman, Cuomo’s energy czar, responded with a scathing letter saying NYISO’s concerns were “nothing more than a path prolonging the outdated status quo” and that “change must happen.”

Kauffman said NYISO was being “held captive” by special interests and lacks “understanding into the imperative to address climate change.” Cuomo and Kauffman have been pushing green energy out of a commitment to reduce carbon dioixde (CO2) emissions to slow global warming. As a result, Cuomo directed state regulators in December to come up with a plan to power New York with 50 percent green energy by 2030. The governor also created a $5.3 billion green energy fund to support the plan.

NYISO doesn’t answer to Cuomo and building the infrastructure to move large amounts of solar or wind power across a state is an expensive endeavor which would require cooperation from the grid regulator.

The costs associated with constructing the kind of high voltage power lines needed to transport the power cost $1.9 to $3.1 million per mile built, and the “smart grid” technology said to be able to move wind and solar power can cost up to 50 percent more. A comparable network of transmission lines in Texas capable to move power from wind-rich West Texas eastward was projected to cost $6.8 billion when it began in 2008. The project still isn’t entirely finished.

The best places solar or wind power tend to be far away from the people who will consume power, according to the Department of Energy.

The technical issues associated with transporting wind or solar power across long distances pale in comparison to the technical issues involved with storing the power. In order for the power grid to function, demand for energy must exactly match supply. Power demand is relatively predictable and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can adjust output accordingly. Solar and wind power, however, cannot be predicted or easily adjust output and the electricity they generate cannot be stored economically.

Additionally, the output of a solar or wind power plant is incredibly unreliable and generally doesn’t coincide with the times when power is most needed as peak electricity demand occurs in the evenings, when solar power is going offline. Adding power plants which only provide power at intermittent and unpredictable times makes the power grid more fragile and risks blackouts.

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