Guest Commentary: Without nuclear, CLCPA will not meet its goals

Associated PressThis Dec. 16, 2009, file photo, shows the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan as seen from across the Hudson River in Tomkins Cove.

New Yorkers may well be wondering what the energy landscape will look like as the state seeks to meet greenhouse-gas-emission reduction and carbon-free electricity goals in state law. Will we see major shifts in energy policy? Perhaps we’ll see the shutdown of old polluting fossil-fuel plants in the metro region and a grid powered by sun and wind. Or maybe not.

Since the passage of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, policy-makers would have us believe that they are busy developing a strategy to decarbonize our energy system. But political appointments to the state’s Climate Action Council and the Power Generation Panel, as well as rhetoric coming from those committees, suggest that the process has been rigged. On one side, you have zealous “100% renewable-energy” advocates, and on the other, fossil-fuel interests. Why is the gas industry so happy to support a plan to deploy lots of solar panels and wind turbines?

Massachusetts, Vermont and California all shut down nuclear power, only to discover that wind and solar must be “partnered” with some baseload or dispatchable energy generator — like gas — when the wind or sun don’t cooperate. In California, gas plants run in “hot-standby,” burning fuel and waiting for a call to kick into high-gear. The “duck curve” is not a child’s crayoned scrawl, but is rather an accurate representation of California’s solar energy being dumped in the daytime while gas-fired generators run all night. Germany has spent half a trillion Euros to deploy six times the relative capacity in solar and wind of New York. Yet after shutting down nuclear power, Germany wants a pipeline to Russia under the Baltic Sea and liquified natural gas deliveries from the USA. Chancellor Angela Merkel is indifferent to the irony of her importation of France’s nuclear-generated electricity. In both California and Germany, utility customers pay through the nose for renewable power that fails to keep the lights on. The high penetration of intermittent resources undermines grid reliability: California experienced rolling blackouts this past summer and, as reported by Bloomberg, large parts of the European grid almost went down in January.

With the Indian Point closure, New York will lose, annually, more than twice the energy generated by every wind turbine and solar panel in the state. The CLCPA is supposed to protect environmental justice communities, but “EJ” communities were created in Wawayanda and Dover where new gas plants came online. Old polluting fossil-fuel plants in metro New York — Astoria, Ravenwood and Gowanus — may run more than before, and further into the future, targeting vulnerable populations like those in Queens’ Asthma Alley. And there’s more: 5,000MW of new and repowered gas plant proposals are detailed in the state system operator’s (NYISO’s) publications.

What should happen is really pretty simple. Nuclear power produces 30% of New York’s electricity and half of the state’s emission-free electricity. The Climate Action Council and Power Generation Panel, which are currently drafting recommendations to meet objectives in the CLCPA should recognize that nuclear power is critical to delivering carbon-free electricity and grid reliability. We will need our existing fleet of reactors to remain economically viable and in operation through 2040. The conversion of combustion-based vehicles and heating systems to electricity will require a lot more juice than we use today. Any recommendations to meet state climate goals should recognize that we’ll need to invest in next-generation reactors.

The state’s Clean Energy Standard should properly value “firm” carbon-free electricity resources, including nuclear, if we hope to meet the 2040 emission-free-electrification goal. The state needs a carbon-fee program, which would allow all emission-free sources of electricity to compete in the marketplace.

The fossil-fuel industry doesn’t care how many wind turbines and solar panels blanket New York as long as we keep burning gas. Based on testimony to the Power Generation Panel, many in the ‘100% renewable community’ seem willing to accept continued, even increased, gas combustion, as long as shutting down safe, energy-dense nuclear reactors, is part of the plan.

Perhaps you are worried about your children’s — and the planet’s — future? Sadly, none of what is happening at the state level addresses emission-free electricity targets or greenhouse-gas-reduction goals in state law. If we want intelligent planning to emerge from the chaos, we’ll need to contact those charged with crafting that policy.

Dennis Higgins is a resident of Otego.

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