On May 10, 2018, a Food and Water Watch organizer cornered Governor Andrew Cuomo on the topic of natural-gas fired power plants. According to their press release, “Tonight in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo committed on camera that he would reject any new natural-gas fired power plants”. It is not often that I have any sympathy for the Governor but in this case I do.
The press release headline is that Governor Cuomo pledged to not permit any new gas power plants. I leave it to the reader to review the video “proof” and decide if this was a substantive pledge. My transcription of the conversation between Laura Shindell, the organizer with Food & Water Watch and Andrew Cuomo:
Shindell: “Will you protect our climate and communities by rejecting all fracking infrastructure?”
Cuomo: “I have.”
Shindell: “The Sheridan Hollow power plant in Albany and CPV power plants…”
Cuomo: “That is not fracked.”
Shindell: “The fracking infrastructure pipelines and power plants that transport …”
Cuomo: “Pipelines we have. “
Cuomo: “Power plants that burn gas we have all over the state. We would have to close them and that is the long term plan.”
Shindell: “And will that conflict with your climate goals”
Cuomo: “Yes, they do”
Shindell: “to remove all fossil fuels? So building Cricket Valley and CPV make it harder for us to make your own climate goals”
Cuomo: “We are not building any new ones. But we have to find a replacement for the old ones.”
Shindell: “Cricket Valley is getting built now”
Cuomo: “It was approved like eight years ago. I have not approved any new ones and I won’t. Thank you”
According to the Food and Water Watch press release:
Asked about new natural-gas fired power plants, Cuomo said, “I have not approved any new ones, and I won’t.” The press release notes correctly that several power plants, including the CPV plant in Orange County and the Cricket Valley power plant in Dover, NY have in fact been approved on Cuomo’s watch. The governor was clear in saying that these plants conflict with the state’s climate goals, adding: “We’re not building any new ones.”
Unfortunately neither Cuomo nor Shindell are energy literate. Shindell does not want the proposed combined heat and power plant in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood of Albany. On my companion blog I posted an analysis that showed there is no viable alternative to replace the existing system. The existing system needs steam and there is no renewable energy technology that provides steam. Either you replace with a much cleaner natural gas system or use the existing old dirtier power plant.
Cuomo was correct to say that we have to find a replacement for old natural gas fired power plants when he said that he won’t approve any new natural gas-fired power plants. I hope that he knows, but did not want to extend the conversation to explain, that if we have to replace old natural gas-fired power plants some, if not all, will have to be with natural gas fired power plants.
For example, there are around 70 old, small (~15 to 25 MW), peaking combustion turbines in New York City that are inefficient and have high NOx emission rates. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has been threatening to promulgate new pollution limits that will either require new pollution control equipment or shutdown. Because they are so old it does not make much sense to invest in expensive control equipment so the more likely option is to shut them down and replace them with a new modern, efficient and very low emitting facility.
The fact of the matter is that there is no viable alternative for completely replacing 1000 MW of peaking turbines that need to be replaced. Some of the peak can be shaved and there are other options to make the system more efficient so you might not need all 1000 MW. Turbines can run for hours so even if you cut the peak hour load by half they can still provide 3000 MWh of generation if they run six hours. Because renewable energy is diffuse and intermittent New York City has to rely on transmission to get enough renewable power to cover normal load much less peak load. Importantly, there is a requirement to rely on in-city generation when storms threaten to sever transmission lines into the city based on lessons learned from the July 1977 New York City blackout. Absent any consideration of economics or tradeoffs the only solution is natural gas fired power plants or run the risk of another blackout.
According to the Food and Water Watch press release:
After the exchange, Food and Water Watch activists pledged to hold Governor Cuomo accountable to his new commitment to reject new fracked gas power plants. “The age of fossil fuels is over, and it’s exciting to hear Governor Cuomo commit to reject new fracked gas power plants. Since he acknowledged that fracked gas plants conflict with New York’s climate goals, Governor Cuomo should rescind existing permits for power plants like CPV and Cricket Valley as well. The governor can rest assured the climate movement will hold him to his words,” said Laura Shindell.
I can only hope that at some point energy facts and tradeoffs between alternate sources of energy will be considered so that natural gas power plants can be developed where they are appropriate and necessary. Alas it is an election year and the energy illiterate climate movement appears to be calling the shots.