New York State and Renewables

New York State's population is shrinking.  In the year ending on July 1, 2018, New York lost more than 48,000 people.  People leave New York State to avoid high taxes.  In the case of upstate New York, they leave to escape perpetual recession.  In upstate Rochester, New York, the home of the bankrupt Kodak, the median house price is $75,000, and 33% of the population is poor.

Ironically, New York is sitting on vast potential mineral wealth in the form of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.  These formations yield vast quantities of oil and gas when properly exploited using hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  But fracking is not allowed in New York.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has proudly forbidden fracking, presumably in order to gain favor from the crackpot green segment of the Democratic Party.  As a consequence, residents of New York living near the border with Pennsylvania often commute to jobs in the Keystone state.

Exploiting shale hydrocarbons involves drilling and fracking.  Naturally, there is some disruption, but the disruption is minor compared to the value of the wealth unleashed.  The crackpot greens magnify and exaggerate every potential problem.  They even mislead, as in the movie Gasland, where a man lights his water faucet on fire.  The implication was that fracking caused natural gas to mix with the water supply.  But the area chosen already had natural gas in the water long before fracking was involved.  An overview of the many crackpot organizations opposed to fracking can be seen at the website of Americans Against Fracking.

I don't call these organizations crackpot casually.  Their positions bear little relation to reality or what is possible.  For example, the organization advocates stopping fossil fuels and turning to 100% renewables.  The anti-fracking crowd is against anything related to hydrocarbons, including even pipelines.  Their justifications are fact-free junk science.  Rebutting their claims is a futile and exhausting exercise that never ends.

The geopolitical benefits of fracking are huge.  In ten years, the United States' energy balance of trade went from a large deficit to nearly even as U.S. oil and natural gas production increased dramatically.  World energy prices have declined in the face of increasing U.S. energy production.  Our dependence on imports from far-flung oil-producing countries has declined dramatically.  The refining and petrochemical industry, centered in Texas, is booming.

Governor Cuomo's energy plan for New York includes investment in wind and solar power.  New York has poor wind potential compared to Midwestern states.  New York solar potential is about 30% less than in sunny Southwestern locations.  As a consequence, green energy in New York will be even more overpriced than it is in favorable locations.  In every state, wind and solar are absolutely and totally useless.  In New York, they are even more useless.  Wind and solar installations are built only because there are huge subsidies covering 70% of the cost.  Neither are wind and solar cost-effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions.

An amusing example of the rampant ignorance that infects New York energy is the fate of a sensible proposal to install a natural gas-powered co-generation facility at a complex of government buildings in Albany.

Formerly, the Empire State Plaza had an energy facility that burned rubbish to generate steam.  The steam was used for heating and cooling the complex of buildings.  Cooling is accomplished by massive machines known as steam-driven chillers.  The rubbish-burning facility, itself a green facility, was decommissioned due to excessive air pollution.  It was replaced by a natural gas-powered steam-generating plant.

The current proposal is to replace the natural gas-fired steam facility with a natural gas cogeneration system.  The cogeneration system uses natural gas-powered turbines to generate electricity.  The hot exhaust from the turbines is then used to generate steam.  One also obtains electricity, essentially at no extra fuel consumption compared to generating steam only. T he proposal will save $2.7 million annually in energy costs.

Citizens Action of New York presented this petition to governor Cuomo:

To: Governor Andrew Cuomo and Gil Quiniones, CEO, NY Power Authority 
From: Carmi Orenstein

We call on Governor Cuomo and Gil Quiniones to stop the Sheridan Hollow fracked gas power plant and use the funds dedicated to this project to make our state capital a national model for renewable energy.  Immediate steps also must be taken to reduce toxic pollution from the existing steam plant and backup generators on Sheridan Avenue.

The problem with this petition is, how does one replace steam generators with renewable energy?  The main types of renewable energy are wind and solar.  These generate electricity, not steam.  Electricity can be used to generate steam, but that is a poor use of valuable electricity.  The electricity that will be generated by the proposed cogeneration project is obtained almost for free as a side benefit of generating steam.  What is the point of replacing "free" electricity with expensive electricity from wind or solar?

The designers of the cogeneration proposal actually considered the use of solar, wind, and geothermal energy.  The analysis is in their report.  It is just not practical to use renewable energy to replace the existing steam boilers.

Even if one could generate steam with wind or solar, there would have to be a backup plant to provide steam when the wind or solar is not working due to clouds, sunset, or a lull in the wind.

Wind or solar power is not the answer to everything.  In fact, it is a good answer for pretty much nothing.  If you live in the middle of nowhere, where power lines don't reach, then go with wind or solar.  More power to you.

Norman Rogers is the author of the book Dumb Energy.  He has websites here and here.