New York may soon decommission the four-decade-old Indian Point nuclear plant, a deteriorating 2-GW power station that supplies 25% of New York City’s electricity.
Some experts claim that closing the plant could de-stabilize supply, thus requiring a time-consuming build-out of centralized power plants and new transmission that will drive up rates. The reality, however, is quite different.
The NY Times reported on the predicament yesterday:
Up to 2.1 million customers in southern New York would be vulnerable to power interruptions from 2016 to 2020 if Indian Point shut down, Rick Gonzales, chief operating officer of the New York Independent System Operator, or I.S.O., told a State Senate committee in May.
Some experts on New York’s electricity system suggest that existing transmission lines could be rebuilt to operate at higher voltage and thus provide more capacity. A proposal for a new line running from Quebec to New York City under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River is inching forward, for example, and sponsors say it could be completed by 2015.
Talk about a lack of imagination. We’re in the middle of a rapid shift in the economics of distributed energy and energy efficiency — with a shut-down of the plant still five years away — and the only reasonable solution people can think up is to build out more centralized infrastructure?
New York has limited transmission capacity, making it more difficult and expensive to transport electricity into the city. Because of these constraints, FERC issued a ruling in April that made it more expensive for generators to use transmission lines, potentially pushing up the price of electricity by 12%. That makes in-city generation much more valuable.
And so we come to one of the most valuable on-site electrical resources, solar PV.
The NY Times reported on a study in June showing that two-thirds of NYC’s buildings could host solar PV systems — providing enough electricity to meet half of the city’s peak demand. With electricity prices in NYC about 60% higher than the national average, the economics of on-site solar PV are already becoming very competitive.
According to NREL’s PV Watts Calculator, a commercial-scale system built for $3.50 a watt in New York City could provide a levelized cost of electricity that is competitive with today’s retail rates:
John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance explains:
These prices are well within reach. Already in the U.S., aggregate purchasing has driven down residential solar PV prices as low as $4.22 per Watt. The average cost of rooftop solar PV installations in Germany is between $3.40 and $3.70 per Watt. In our new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, we show that even small-scale solar is being built for under $4 per Watt in the U.S.
Of course, solar is effective as a peaking resource, not a baseload resource. But there is great potential to cost-competitively meet large portions of NYC’s peak demand with solar without the need to build costly natural gas “peaker” plants or new transmission lines.
Distributed co-generation units are also a very attractive, high-efficiency option. Earlier this year, New York University deployed a gas-fired unit that will provide electricity, heat and chilled water to 37 buildings at 90% efficiency — reducing electrical demand by almost 14 MW. The project will save the University over $5 million in energy costs each year.
Let’s not forget about efficiency too, particularly intelligent demand response. This method of reducing on-site energy use — in which a company pays a commercial building owner to reduce demand during peak times, aggregates demand reduction into “nega-watts,” and then sells those reductions to a utility as if it were real power — is an excellent way to utilize existing infrastructure without building new power plants.
According to World Energy Solutions, a company that provides an a bidding platform for these nega-watts, NYC building owners can get paid between $109,000 and $175,000 per MW of demand reduced on the market. That’s an attractive proposition for both the building owner and the power provider that doesn’t have to build a bunch of expensive infrastructure.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’s determined to shut down the Indian Point plant. If New York City doesn’t get creative and start thinking about clean, on-site solutions, the options are getting pretty limited:
Power plant construction in the New York City area faces yet another hurdle: because the air already violates the smog standard, for each ton of nitrogen oxides that any new power plant would emit, the Environmental Protection Agency requires the builder to cut output of that pollutant from another source by 1.3 tons. That means a developer wanting to build a new plant has to find another plant to clean up.
The case for renewable energy and efficiency measures couldn’t be any more compelling for NYC. Policymakers need to recognize there are solutions beyond just building more centralized infrastructure.
Below are earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:
In the half a month that my 2.5 kW solar PV system has been on line, here in the currently cloudy NW, I have sold 2/3 times more electricity to the grid than I have consumed. With the WA State. “feed in tariff I have made over $50.00 and received free power.
finally something less bleak to read. I’m loving the intelligent demand response.
July 28 at 6:36pm
think progress and think progress green always have great articles! i tweet them quite frequently for @envirowire
July 28 at 6:37pm
Every effort should be made to bring that plant into safety compliance before it is shut down. Its electricity will not be replaced by clean energy as it is now, and if it was this plant would be even more low/no CO2 energy produced.
No good argument exists for shutting this plant down whether it be the record of actual incidents or the radiation in normal operation when compared to existing coal power. And indeed the harm to the environment shuttering any nuclear unless absolutely necessary is real and extreme.
Recent ecological responses to climate change support predictions of high extinction risk [ http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/07/06/1017352108.abstract?sid=1c67ca1f-e4bd-414e-be82-ca43816a0647 ].
I challenge anyone to produce a valid argument within current reviewed science and widespread energy practice that justifies stuttering nuclear power.
Even in a complete solar replacement scenario — 2/3 of the power needed without grid updates woudl be from gas.
Fair points. What people don’t realize about the frustration felt by environmentalists, however, is that we don’t really feel like people are even trying. We should be coming at the problem full force from every direction, but that’s not happening. Instead of an honest, societal effort, it’s a bunch of monkeys throwing poo at each other.
July 15 at 11:51am
Agreed. Its really bad when we cannot separate the poo from the science. NYC should be a shining example of solar power applied correctly as the article states. If a compromise on Indian point can also be reached we would be even that much more ahead, otherwise another future will be decided for us likely, again as it was before with coal.
We are talking about enormous reserves of cheap fossil carbon energy becoming available. ( http://diseaseclimate.blogspot.com/2011/07/as-arctic-ocean-faces-one-of-its-most.html )
July 15 at 6:55pm
Stephen, great post. Being from the distant burbs, I hadn’t thought at all about the co-gen opportunities in big US cities. If all the natural gas going to heat in NYC went through cogen first, how much electricity is that? Some of the electric would go to heat pumps, to make up for the btu that went to electrical generation, but there would still be a lot of new generation.
According to the NYC Green House Gas Inventory (below) buildings in NYC are using 266,000 therms/hour natural gas, equivalent to 7.8 Gigawatts. There is some co-gen already, but clearly this is a huge opportunity for the city, Green Jobs. http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/2010/pr412-10_report.pdf
July 15 at 9:23am