Constituent policy

NYISO predicts troubled energy future

The future isn’t bright for the Empire State’s power grid, according to the new publication System and Resource Outlook 2021-2040 of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO).

As the Empire State tries to transform its grid to zero-emission electricity generation by 2040, it will face three serious problems: a need for unprecedented rapid development of wind and solar power; a critical dependence on energy sources that are not yet economically viable; and severe transmission congestion.

As more people drive electric cars and more buildings are electrically heated, installed power generation capacity will need to more than double over the next 18 years, from 51 gigawatts of installed capacity to between 111 and 124 gigawatts.

Natural gas-fired power plants make up nearly half of current capacity, and because they must shut down, NYISO predicts that more than 95 gigawatts of new—emission-free—power generation will need to be built in just 18 years. And at least 20 gigawatts must be built over the next seven years.

For comparison, over the past 23 years, only 13 gigawatts of power generation have been developed, and over the past five years, only 2.6 gigawatts. Meanwhile, over those five years, 4.8 GW of generation has been disabled, resulting in the loss of more than 2 gigawatts of generation capacity – enough to power more than a million homes. This means that New York is currently going backwards, not forwards.

Unless the state dramatically accelerates the pace of bringing emission-free resources online and sticks to its plan to shut down gas plants, demand for electricity will eventually exceed supply. This would lead to power outages, most likely in unusually hot or cold weather. Similar to the Texas blackout in 2021, hundreds or more could die from exposure to extreme temperatures or lose power to critical medical equipment. As always, these deaths would be concentrated among the elderly, the sick and the poor.

Additionally, NYISO warns that this construction cannot be entirely wind and solar, due to their intermittency. No one can command the sun to shine and the wind to blow when they need it.

Therefore, a substantial amount of electricity should come from sources that can be delivered on demand, but still emission-free. NYISO calls these sources DEFR (Distributable Emissions Free Resources), a generic name to describe an unknown source.

Possibilities include hydrogen, renewable natural gas, modular nuclear power and some degree of battery backup. But none of these sources are commercially viable yet, and no one knows if they will become so by 2040. Batteries, in particular, are unlikely to meet a multi-day need for power delivery over long periods of time. periods of low wind and solar production. If these sources are rushed into use due to premature shutdown of natural gas power plants, consumer energy costs could skyrocket.

A better approach would be to continue researching these sources and let them come online naturally as they become affordable.

There are also great constraints on the ability to transmit power from where it will be produced by wind and solar to where it will be needed.

There are 13 “limited pockets” of renewable energy generation in the state. These pockets are regions where the lack of sufficient transmission capacity could prevent electricity from moving out of the pocket where it is generated to where the demand is. Any excess renewable energy production in the pocket would then have to be reduced, meaning that potential production would be wasted.

One of the biggest pockets is offshore wind projects slated for development off Long Island, which require more power to be pumped into Long Island’s transmission system than it is designed to handle. . Since offshore wind is a fundamental part of New York’s bid for zero-emissions electricity, this restricted transmission zone is a key impediment to state goals.

In short, building the necessary production capacity is not enough. The state will also need to build transmission capacity to move it. It is not only expensive, but time consuming to plan, license and build high power transmission lines, especially since no one wants them in their own backyard.

As a result, NYISO concludes, “Future uncertainty is the only thing certain about the electric power industry.”

New Yorkers deserve better than uncertainty. Natural gas was once touted as an emissions-free transition fuel between coal and electricity. Now some want to burn that bridge while we still cross it.

New York’s only reasonable option in the short term is to keep the natural gas plants online. This may delay the goal of achieving zero-emission electricity generation. But if pushed too quickly, that goal will only be achieved at the cost of New York lives.