So Gas it is!

by Isuru Seneviratne, Nuclear New York

April 27, 2020


New York’s electricity is a tale of two grids: the low-carbon upstate grid (81% powered by hydro and nuclear), and the high-carbon downstate one (70% powered by methane gas). Indian Point is responsible for 80% of downstate clean electricity generation, and 12% of the state’s total grid power (NYISO, 2019a). Due to the population density of the downstate region, and opposition from local jurisdictions to siting renewable projects (New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, 2019) Variable Renewable Energy (including distributed solar) contributed 3.3% of downstate generation in 2018.

Indian Point sits within the grid-constrained downstate sub-region called ‘Lower Hudson Valley,’ which includes New York City. Since transmission constraints limit power flows into this region, the grid operator requires a minimum 92.3% of generative capacity to be procured within the area to reliably serve load (NYISO, 2019a).

Since congestion on the current transmission system limits the amount of upstate electricity that can reach the densely populated downstate region, part of IP’s replacement generation must be met by local resources (Dillon, 2020; NYISO, 2019a). New York grid operator (NYISO) has selected two transmission lines “increasing delivery of environmentally desirable power to meet state energy goals, relieving congestion, and replacing aging infrastructure to bolster system reliability and resilience” (NYISO, 2019c). These projects, slated to transmit at least 900 MW to the Lower Hudson Valley by December 2023 (NYISO, 2019b), are beyond the scope of our study.

“Even with the Transmission projects selected . . . congestion will persist. The inability of the transmission system to deliver increasing amounts of renewables from upstate to downstate jeopardizes achieving the state’s public policy goals” (NYISO, 2019a).

So gas it is!

In order to evaluate the grid mix after Indian Point closure, we model Lower Hudson Valley electricity demand for in 2021 by subtracting energy efficiency and (non-solar) behind-the-meter generation savings estimates from NYISO’s Load and Capacity Data report (Gold Book) (NYISO, 2019c). Then we tabulate all the distributed solar projects from the Gold Book, and all grid-connected projects in NYISO’s interconnection queue (as of March 2020) slated to come online between January 2020 and December 2021 (NYISO, n.d.-c). We include the projects not subject to the NYISO process (NYS Public Service Commission, 2019) from utility interconnection queues of Consolidated Edison, Orange & Rockland Utilities, and Central Hudson Gas & Electric with ‘verification testing or final acceptance dates’ after 30 June 2019 (NY State, 2020).

This shows that 91% of electricity generation added after Indian Point closure will be fossil fuel, with merely 9% coming from solar.

Things are even worse than previously assessed.

The Cost of Fear

However, evaluating the electricity generation future in Lower Hudson Valley under under two scenarios: (A) Indian Point is closed, (B) Indian Point remains operational, demonstrates the true cost of fear.

Since variable renewable generation has zero marginal cost, all electricity produced from such sources enter the generation mix irrespective of the price of electricity. Methane gas-fired electricity generates the marginal unit of electricity, and therefore expands and contracts to balance the net electricity demand. For simplicity’s sake, we assume each unit of variable renewable generation will displace a unit of baseload generation (sufficient & lossless storage/transmission to get distributed variable generation to when/where needed).

Under Scenario A, the bulk of incremental generation will be from two combined cycle gas turbine projects – CPV Valley and Cricket Valley, as identified by NYISO’s deactivation assessment (NYISO, 2017). While CPV Valley has been operational since October 2018, the plant is expected to ramp up with IP’s closure (McKenna, 2017). Beyond these plants, residual demand is balanced by ramping up existing fossil fuel plants in NYC. Gas/oil duel fuel plants in the State had a capacity utilization factor of 62% in 2018 (NYISO, 2019a).

Under Scenario B, the growth of solar and wind displaces generation from fossil fuel plants. The grid mix, and resultant greenhouse gas emissions difference between the two scenarios is tabulated below.