The Republican View: Keeping the lights on

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I was recently on PBS talking about the repowering of Lansing’s coal-fired power plant with natural gas and where we get our energy from in New York State. I also recently testified at a hearing in front of Senator Rachel May about power generation. Not a week goes by that I’m not in a meeting or conference talking and listening about where we get our electricity from and how we heat our homes.


I’ve argued against the Lansing natural gas moratorium both locally and at the state level and will continue to do so. It’s unfair for Lansing’s growth to be restricted because NYSEG cannot provide the utilities it’s been contracted to provide. Westchester County is now feeling the pain of a moratorium. In response, the Public Service Commission is freeing up $250 million for alternatives to new natural gas hookups. Let’s look at those “alternatives.”
Heat pumps


Heat pumps do not generate energy. I often hear switching to heat pumps as a response to replacing natural gas for heat. While heat pumps have advanced and can be used economically in larger residential buildings, they don’t generate power. They’re not magic. They require much more electricity to heat a home than a gas-fired furnace. You’re trading natural gas burning in your furnace for, in New York, natural gas burning at a power plant downstate, in another state, or in Canada.


You need natural gas for industry. Even those against fossil fuels seem to acknowledge that. The moratorium in Lansing is pushing that industry to towns and cities that can provide natural gas. It’s really that simple. The only option in Lansing will be to build large multi-unit residences, single-family homes heated with propane, oil, or heat pumps for those who can afford the added upfront expense, and a few commercial properties. That’s a bedroom community, not a town.


Scale
The case is being made for replacing large natural gas generation with solar. The Cayuga power plant presented a plan two years ago to put 20 Megawatts on site and could have added batteries. Holyoke, MA has come up as an example of a retired powerplant being “replaced” by solar. Looking at both those projects, the Cayuga plant was 300 megawatts when both turbines were running; Mount Tom in Holyoke was 146 Mw. The solar arrays at 20 Mw, and 5.8 Mw generation with 3 Mw of storage respectively, don’t come close to replacing the generation capacity of those fossil fuel plants or of nuclear plants. Coal plants may not be able to compete with natural gas, but without natural gas powerplants, we will see much higher electricity prices, a burden borne disproportionately by the poor and middle class.


Despite decades of work, less than five percent of NY’s electricity comes from solar (According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration). We are making progress, but we also shouldn’t pretend our electricity needs will be met with solar and wind this decade. We can’t even keep the lights on in New York with this technology, never mind keeping our homes warm.


Climate Change
Every meeting I go to, I hear from climate scientists. Some politicians and activists are comparing climate change to World War Two. What seems to be forgotten is the level of sacrifice that fighting World War Two required. It wasn’t just money and taxes. For the sake of this argument, let’s accept that premise. Would you take nuclear energy with zero emissions off the table if you were fighting for your family’s survival, or would you speed up building those plants? Would you force a ban on fossil fuels and live by the rules you put in place? That includes fertilizers for food production, transportation, and really all commerce. Do you think realistically, voters will embrace that? Would you put sanctions on China, India, and Germany, who have increased their CO2 emissions?


Solutions
I understand why climate scientists want to raise awareness, but what are their solutions? Are they fighting for more nuclear power, a technology we have? Are they encouraging our students to study nuclear fission and fusion; how to bring more hydropower online; how to increase the efficiency of solar, perhaps with a solar paint; collect solar in space and microwave it to base-stations?


There’s this thinking that there’s no problem that money can’t solve. Money is not unlimited despite what many in Washington DC believe. So where do we spend our money? I’d suggest spending on replacing older natural gas infrastructure, to stop leaks, would have a greater impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, than the same amount spent on solar panels. Money for converting long-haul trucks to natural gas from diesel is money better spent than on ocean windmills. The costs of any “green deal” will be borne by the poor and middle class. I suggest we spend their money wisely and consider their budgets and not just the federal government’s.

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