Life After Indian Point
The lower Hudson Valley region in May is starting its own version of the “green new deal,” as Indian Point shuts down one unit, and a new natural gas plant comes online in Columbia County.
The complexity and financial price of meeting Gov. Cuomo’s aggressive environmental energy goals raise two fundamental questions that no one can answer right now – will the lights stay on, and can we afford the cost?
The tangled story of New York’s green energy pursuit has several contradictions, or “bridges to the future,” embedded in its strategy.
The Cuomo administration’s goal is 70% renewable energy by 2030, and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.
The governor plans 21 large-scale renewable projects — solar, wind and energy storage — that are expected to generate $2.5 billion in private investment in the coming years. Those projects will take years to come to fruition.
Closing Indian Point’s two remaining units takes 2,000 megawatts of nuclear power off line. Supporters argue that nuclear fuel is the ultimate clean energy, with no carbon emissions.
In fact, the governor has imposed a $2-a-month fee on Con Ed bills downstate to subsidize the continued operations of two other nuclear plants upstate, seemingly endorsing nuclear power.
In addition, the current linchpin to get from here to there remains natural gas, a lower-carbon energy source that environmentalists are trying to stop.
One natural gas plant in Orange County is now generating 680 megawatts that can help fill the Indian Point shortfall, but legal challenges could shut that down.
The new natural gas plant in Dover, N.Y. – Cricket Valley – can generate another 1,000 megawatts of electricity and is scheduled to come on line in April. That plant too faces legal challenges from environmentalists.
Building all these new renewable energy sources – wind turbines, solar displays, and energy storage facilities – at a fast pace, with reduced development costs, poses a major obstacle.
But on April 3 the Democrat-controlled state legislature in Albany included a new law in the overall state budget that effectively gives the governor’s appointee the sole power to override all local zoning laws and permit these energy projects where the state sees fit.
Another approach to promoting environmental energy in New York state is adding a carbon tax to drive up the floor price of natural gas. The carbon-pricing scheme needs the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
So, will the lights stay on? The answer is probably yes. The New York State Independent Systems Operator (NYISO), which oversees the state’s energy grid, reported in 2018 that adequate supplies of energy should be available, aided by the new natural gas plants in Orange County and at Cricket Valley.
As far as cost – that will inevitably rise. The only question is by how much.
One certainty on that front is that Con Ed has already won approvals to raise prices for the next three years – electricity by 4.2% in 2020, 4.7% in January 2021 and 4% in January 2022. Natural gas will rise 7.5% this year, 8.8% in 2021 and a 7.2% in 2022.
Jim Roberts is a freelance business reporter based in Peekskill.