Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for the biggest changes in New York's electric grid since Thomas Edison launched the Electric Age on Manhattan's Pearl Street in 1882. Not only has Cuomo decided that the state should be getting half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, he has also negotiated the early retirement of New York City's most important power plant: the Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County.
But by trying to pick the electric grid's winners, Cuomo is amping up the risk of blackouts in New York City.
As I show in a new report for the Manhattan Institute, the New York Independent System Operator — the independent, non-profit entity that manages the state's electric grid — has been warning for years that the premature closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant could mean blackouts for New York City. And last Monday, the NYISO announced it had begun a reliability assessment of the state's grid if the Indian Point facility is shuttered, as planned, by 2021.
Hyping renewable energy is easy. Keeping the lights on requires real effort.
While that assessment is needed, a presentation available on the NYISO's website, which has not been publicly discussed, shows that if Indian Point is shuttered before new power plants are built near the five-borough area, the probability of blackouts in New York City will double.
The electric grid runs on narrow tolerances of voltage, which is akin to water pressure in a pipeline. The grid must be continually tuned so that electricity production and electricity usage match. Doing so helps ensure that voltage on the grid stays at near-constant levels. If voltage fluctuates too much, it causes swings in frequency, and blackouts can occur.
In 2015, NYISO raised concerns, saying, "To meet electric system reliability requirements, replacement resources have to be in place prior to a closure of the Indian Point Energy Center." In July 2016, the grid operator commented more broadly on New York's nuclear fleet, saying that "Retaining all existing nuclear generators is critical to the state's carbon emission reduction requirements, as well as maintaining electric system reliability."
On Oct. 25, two analysts — one from General Electric and another from the consulting firm ICF — provided a presentation to NYISO that discusses the Clean Energy Standard and the closure of Indian Point. The presentation, labeled a draft, discusses a reliability standard known as "loss of load expectation," or LOLE, an event in which electricity demand exceeds available generation. The reliability standard for grid operators in the U.S. allows for a LOLE of one day every 10 years, or 0.1 days per year. By 2030, the GE-ICF presentation estimates that closing Indian Point will result in the doubling of LOLE in the New York City area to 0.2 days per year.
Making matters worse: Cuomo's appointees are refusing to approve new natural gas pipelines, which could supply fuel to generation plants that could — in theory, anyway — replace the electricity now being produced by the two reactors at Indian Point.
But don't bother Cuomo with facts. He's too busy posturing. In January, he directed state agencies to chart a pathway toward running the state on nothing but wind and solar because, he said, going to 100 percent renewables is "what a sustainable New York is really all about."
The punchline here is obvious: Hyping renewable energy is easy. Keeping the lights on requires real effort. The NYISO has repeatedly warned that the New York grid needs Indian Point. Let's hope someone in Albany — someone not named Cuomo — is listening.
This piece originally appeared in the Albany Times Union