New York and the March to Energy Independence and Greener Electricity
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the need for energy independence became a primary concern for New Yorkers, as well as the state and federal agencies that represent them. When we think of reducing our reliance on foreign energy sources, we usually think about the gasoline we put into our car’s gas tank and where it comes from. Yes, there are concerns that arise from our extensive use of petroleum from the Middle East, but it’s also important to consider the sources of the electricity that keeps our homes bright. This concern is also an opportunity to introduce the renewable energies that will reshape the Empire State while protecting its striking natural beauty.
The biggest problem confronting New Yorkers when it comes to energy independence is the fact that New York electricity consumption is always on the rise. According to the Census, in 1950, there were 14.8 million citizens in New York. In 2009, the Census estimated that number had grown to 19.5 million. This increase is caused by many factors, including our need to power the wide array of electronic devices that run our digital world. Further, the consistent increase in population requires New York’s energy industry to add new power plants and increase the efficiency of those already in use.
Legacy fuels such as coal and petroleum did a great job providing us with the standard of living we now enjoy. The Energy Information Administration points out that New York has already begun the transition. In 1998, 10.3% of the electric generation capability was provided by plants that burned petroleum (much of which, of course, must be imported). By 2008, just ten years later, that figure was down to 23.7%. In that same period, generation from petroleum fell from 14.9 million to 3.7 million megawatthours. That remarkable decline means New York electricity customers are using that many fewer millions of gallons of petroleum from other countries.
It may come as a surprise, but New York’s geology has made it an early leader in the adoption of renewable energy. This is because of Niagara Falls and the massive force of the countless gallons of water crashing over its edge. In fact, the largest electric plant in the state is the Robert Moses Niagara Facility operated by the New York Power Authority. All that rushing water provides a net summer capacity of 2,353 megawatts. The Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station north of Syracuse makes use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuel, contributing almost 1,800 megawatts of environmentally friendly electricity. Only two of the top ten facilities burn petroleum: Oswego Harbor Power and the Roseton Generating Station. (Combined, these plants provide 1,890 mW of capacity.)
The fossil fuel that will most likely facilitate the transition between legacy and next-generation electricity is natural gas. While burning natural gas might not be the very best option for the environment, natural gas can be found in abundance on American soil. (Including in New York State itself.) The eight million people who live in New York City will soon be serviced by a new 600-megawatt power plant that will burn natural gas. The state-of-the-art facility will employ combined-cycle technology, making it far more efficient than the existing plant, allowing customers to extract more electricity from the same amount of natural gas. The plant will be finished in two phases: the first will be ready in 2013 and the second in 2015.
As always, the ingenuity of New Yorkers will be the solution for the state’s problems. In several decades, natural gas will be replaced by wind farms, tidal energy and more. These technologies are not, at present, powerful enough to meet all of the demand. (As any New Yorker can attest, solar energy might never be an option, no matter how powerful the technology becomes. New York doesn’t get enough sunlight, especially in the winter!) Instead of importing foreign oil or purchasing natural gas from other states, you’ll charge your cell phone or check your e-mail with electricity generated within the borders of the Empire State.