New York state’s green energy mandates could jeopardize the reliability of its power grid in the coming years, several grid experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The state has established targets of generating 70% of its electricity by 2030 and having its grid reach zero-emissions by 2040, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Reaching these goals will necessitate the substitution of natural gas-fired generation sources with intermittent sources like solar and wind, and the state’s future energy mix leaves ratepayers exposed to increased costs in addition to serious reliability concerns, grid experts told the DCNF.

New York derived about 46% of its 2021 in-state power generation from natural gas, and nuclear energy provided about 25% of the state’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Green energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass combined to provide about 10% of the state’s electricity in 2021.

“Politicians pawn off responsibility for expensive energy on things like Covid-19 supply chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and higher interest rates. Heavy-handed net zero mandates don’t get the blame they deserve,” Travis Fisher, the director of energy and environmental policy studies at the Cato Institute, told the DCNF. “The reliability of electric and gas service for New Yorkers is in jeopardy, which is a shame considering how close the state is to some of the most abundant shale gas plays in the world.”

The state’s power market is already in fragile condition, and a severe winter storm could induce blackouts. This scenario nearly played out in 2022, when Winter Storm Elliot disrupted the state’s natural gas supply, nearly plunging huge swaths of the state into blackouts; however, it was natural gas “peaker” facilities, not wind or solar, that ultimately enabled the power market to avoid a shortage during that storm and cold snap, according to EnergyInDepth. “Peakers” are plants that typically only come online during periods of peak electricity demand.

A similar dynamic played out in Texas, which was hit hard by Winter Storm Elliot: the cold temperatures interfered with existing gas infrastructure and severely impacted the generation capacity of wind turbines, prompting the state’s main grid operator to resort to burning oil in order to keep the lights on.

The state had plans to shut down several natural gas peakers by May 2025 in order to comply with emissions regulations. However, the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the state’s grid reliability watchdog, warned in a November report that executing those plans and prematurely removing supply of last resort would potentially jeopardize reliability in New York City. Accordingly, NYISO decided in November to keep those plants open past the deadline, according to UtilityDive.

“The problem with sun and wind is that they are not always available, and you need another source of electricity for when solar and wind aren’t there for you,” Meredith Angwin, an energy analyst and author who writes extensively about grid reliability and related policy issues, told the DCNF. “Because renewables need backup plants for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, a renewable-heavy grid has to have more installed capacity than a more traditional grid. In a renewable-heavy grid, you have to have installed capacity of 1 MW extra for every 1 MW of solar and wind. This raises the customer costs of renewable grids.”

In 2021, the state retired the Indian Point nuclear plant to the cheers of environmentalist organizations. Indian Point was one of four major nuclear plants in the state, and it was especially important for providing energy to New York City, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and The New York Times. Building new nuclear capacity is considered extremely difficult because of high per-unit construction costs and regulatory uncertainty, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

“New York, and especially New York City, have become vulnerable to what Meredith Angwin calls the ‘fatal trifecta’: an overcommitment to renewable energy; an over-reliance on just-in-time natural gas; and an over-dependence on imports from neighbors. The state’s political path dependency suggests that the response to any kind of power crisis would manifest solely in solutions that exacerbate rather than resolve this problem,” Emmet Penney, a grid expert and the editor-in-chief for Grid Brief, told the DCNF. “For now, the Empire State should work to strip out any price-distortionary subsidies that dicker with its power market— but, as I mentioned above, the state is headed in the opposite direction. Expect diesel generator sales to rise state-wide.”

In addition to the New York-specific issues that could pose problems for the state’s grid reliability, the Biden administration’s massive green energy subsidy push and stringent proposed regulations for power plants both pose additional risks to the state’s power market in the coming years, Penney told the DCNF.

New York isn’t the only state that regularly deals with winter weather to have adopted aggressive green energy targets for the future. Michigan recently enacted its own 2040 target, Illinois is aiming for 100% green energy by 2050 and Minnesota is committed to achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, according to the Clean Energy States Alliance.

NYSERDA and offices of both Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Eric Adams, the Democratic mayor of New York City, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Nick Pope on December 9, 2023

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