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Commentary By Jonathan A. Lesser

New York, Prepare for Green Blackouts

Cities, Energy New York City, Technology

That’s what moving to solar and wind while rejecting nuclear power will bring

Last Saturday evening, one of Con Ed’s high-voltage underground cables failed, plunging 42 blocks of Manhattan into darkness. The outage affected around 70,000 customers, shuttered Broadway shows and even forced cancellation of the Jennifer Lopez concert at the Garden.

And just as the sun can be counted to rise in the east, Gov. Cuomo rushed to score political points, blaming the utility and calling the outage an example of “Russian roulette” in a radio interview on WNYC.

But the real thing to fear is the governor’s windmill-tilting green energy policies, which will make New York’s power system far more vulnerable to blackouts. Most immediately, the governor’s insistence on shuttering Indian Point nuclear power plant beginning next year, thereby eliminating 2,000 MW of reliable, round-the-clock, emissions-free electricity that provides up to 25% of the electricity needs for the greater New York City region, including Westchester County, where the plant is located.

In July 2016, the New York Independent System Operator — the independent, nonprofit organization that operates the state’s electric grid — noted in its comments to the Public Service Commission that “retaining all existing nuclear generators is critical to the state’s carbon emission reduction requirements as well as maintaining electric system reliability.” The year before, NYISO warned, “To meet electric system reliability requirements, replacement resources have to be in place prior to a closure of the Indian Point Energy Center.”

Those replacement resources will be natural-gas-fired generating units: a 600 MW plant in Wayawanda, which came online last October; an 1,100 MW plant in Dover Valley, scheduled to be online in 2020; and a 120 MW plant in Bayonne across the Hudson River. Not wind. Not solar. Natural gas.

So much for the emissions-free electricity to replace Indian Point and meet the governor’s decree to supply the state with electricity only from wind, solar and hydro power.

Of course, while Indian Point must be replaced with natural gas generation to meet the city’s electricity needs, Cuomo has stopped construction of new natural gas pipelines into the state in a sop to environmentalists.

Meanwhile, the state’s Climate Leadership and Protection Act calls for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 and an 85% reduction on greenhouse gas emissions from all sources by 2050 — vehicles, manufacturing, agriculture, you name it. That means replacing all fossil fuel use with zero-emission electricity.

Today, electricity accounts for just one-seventh of the state’s total energy use. Electrifying everything will increase the demand for electricity. A lot. Intermittent and unreliable wind and solar won’t be able to meet that increased demand. Nor will batteries be able to store enough electricity to power the state when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

Without reliable electricity, blackouts like last Saturday’s will become all too common.

The only realistic clean-energy solution? Embracing nuclear power, which provides clean, reliable, on-demand power.

All of which makes the governor’s long jeremiad against Indian Point so bizarre. As I explain in my new Manhattan Institute report, in the short run, that means continued subsidies for nuclear plants, such as the upstate nuclear plants owned by Exelon Generation that currently receive subsidies of $540 million annually.

Although most economists, including me, don’t like subsidies, subsidizing nuclear plants is the “least-bad” solution to promote clean and, especially, reliable electricity supplies. That doesn’t mean throwing unlimited amounts of money at nuclear. Rather, it means designing incentives to ensure plant owners have “skin in the game” by linking subsidies to wholesale electricity prices and requiring plant owners to improve their operating efficiency.

It also means ending the political demagoguery that has prevented finding a real solution for spent nuclear fuel, whether that’s a permanent storage facility or finding ways to recycling it, as is done in France.

None of this will be easy. But if Saturday’s blackout demonstrated anything, it’s that the most expensive electricity of all is the electricity that isn’t there when you need it.

This piece originally appeared at the New York Daily News


Jonathan A. Lesser, PhD, is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, president of Continental Economics consulting, and author of the new report, “Is There a Future for Nuclear Power in the United States?

This piece originally appeared in New York Daily News