The state isn’t harvesting increasing amounts of wind energy because it can’t be delivered to power-hungry downstate where it is needed, and if more wind farms go up that problem will only grow worse unless new transmission lines are built.
“This is something for us to keep our eyes on as more wind gets deployed,” said Richard Dewey, an executive vice president for the New York Independent System Operator (ISO). The not-for-profit group oversees the state’s minute-by-minute supply of electricity for more than 19 million New Yorkers.
Last fall, for example, large wind farms upstate were producing more energy than could be moved into the grid, forcing the owners to reduce operations, a phenomenon called “bottling” or “curtailment.” And that means wind energy is being left untapped even as the state encourages more as part of plans to hit ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.
In releasing the ISO’s 2019 outlook for the electrical supply, Dewey said the amount of such lost potential energy has been climbing in recent years, and will continue to grow unless transmission lines are improved from where wind farms are – primarily in the northern and western portions of the state – to where more clean power is needed, specifically metropolitan New York, which relies primarily on power produced with fossil fuels.
Last year, there were about 73 megawatt hours of lost wind energy, according to the 2019 ISO annual report, or enough to power nearly 7,000 average homes for a year. That is up from about 47 megawatt hours in 2017, and 21.5 megawatt hours in 2016. Combined, that was enough power for 20,000 homes for a year.
Currently, the state has about 2,000 megawatts of wind energy located upstate, or roughly the equivalent of four traditional fossil fuel-fired power plants. Another 4,300 megawatts are on the drawing board.
“The great news is that we have more and more renewable energy in the state,” said Anne Reynolds, executive director of Alliance for Clean Energy New York, an Albany-based lobbying group that represents wind, solar and other alternative energy companies.
“The bad news is we have a gridlock, a traffic jam, that is keeping it from getting down to New York City, where people are clamoring for greener power,” she said.
Reynolds said there are “two solutions: Investing in better transmission lines, and in off-shore wind close to New York City, and we need to do both.”
According to the ISO 2019 report, the city and the rest the the state are the story of two electrical grids – one upstate, and running mainly on greenhouse gas-free wind, hydro and nuclear, relying on fossil fuels for only about 11 percent of its total energy, and the other downstate, where natural gas and oil provide about 70 percent of the power.
Dewey said the state is addressing part of the upstate transmission logjam with a $1.2 billion transmission project announced last month that will upgrade lines from Utica to the Capital Region, and then to Dutchess County, where they can feed the New York City grid.
That project is scheduled to start operating in 2023, he said, and should help bring more clean upstate power downstate. But as more wind farms go online, another transmission upgrade will be needed to keep weaning the city off its fossil fuel diet, Dewey added.
The report also warned that if the state does not do enough to connect the wind power of upstate to downstate, further expansion of such green power upstate could cannibalize itself, with newer green sources knocking out older sources, while doing nothing to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.
“The most notable information in the report is that, absent carbon pricing and new transmission investment, state policies that incentivize upstate renewables investment will result in increasing displacement of existing renewable and zero-emitting resources, meaning we will not be achieving the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals,” said Gavin Donohue, president and CEO of Independent Power Producers of New York.
An ISO plan to add costs to power based on climate damages caused by climate emissions – a concept known as the “social cost” of carbon – would make it “more likely that renewables resources locate where they will actually reduce emissions,” said Donohue, whose Albany-based lobbying group represents about 80 companies that generate about three-quarters of the state’s electricity.
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