We cannot live without energy.
Energy heats and cools our homes, businesses and factories. Energy powers our transportation vehicles, creates commerce, and satisfies our travel needs. A growing economy requires new energy sources and a continuous updating of existing energy delivery systems.
Energy development and related projects always provoke opposition.
A quick overview of New York’s energy resources may help us better understand a very complex subject that we all take for granted.
Environmental concerns and significant shifts in energy procurement began during the 1970s. This resulted in rapidly rising prices, shortages and gas lines, and a focus to reduce national energy consumption. The environmental movement slowly evolved from making the public aware of the issue into a political force.
It was during this period that we experienced the Chernobyl (1986) disaster and our own scare with the Three Mile Island (1979) nuclear plant. These events shut down the promising new nuclear energy industry. Nuclear energy would have significantly reduced our dependence on fossil fuels.
The concern over safety of nuclear plants resulted in Gov. Mario Cuomo stopping the nearly completed Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island.
That decision resulted in the Long Island Lighting Co. customers paying for this $6 billion plant, receiving no benefits, and forcing the utility to scramble in the energy market to make up for the loss from this energy resource.
Nuclear energy is significant in New York, providing 12.9 percent of state energy needs. Fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas, took up the slack from the stopped nuclear industry. In addition, hydro-electric energy from Canada became a factor in meeting state needs.
Hydro-electric energy was essentially developed in our nation by this time. New York fared better than most states with the development of the Niagara River and St Laurence River 1,000-megawatt installations. However, these large hydro-electric plants are a relatively small component of New York’s energy needs. Based upon 2013 data, hydro-electric energy provides 6.9 percent of state needs.
An energy analysis, based on 2013 data, shows that “renewables,” that being solar and wind sources, provide only 1.4 percent of state energy needs. The interest in “alternative energy” sources is rapidly changing due to government programs designed to reduce “green house gas” emissions that may affect climate change.
The 2013 energy study shows that natural gas and all forms of oil, including jet fuel, LPG and ethanol, total 73 percent of the state’s energy needs. Nationally, renewables make up about 4 percent of energy needs.
Solar and wind energy sources will double within 10 years, perhaps even triple in that time period, but those energy sources will not displace oil and natural gas energy resources.
The good news is that people and governments (national, state and local) began in seriousness to develop products and services that consume less energy. The environmental movement has been successful in causing the public to think about energy usage when purchasing goods and services. The bad news is that we are being told that solar and wind energy is the “wave of the future” and fossil fuels are “yesterday’s energy sources” and must be replaced.
Recent opposition to natural gas development led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to prevent this energy resource from being developed in New York at the present time. However, it is important to understand that natural gas provides 37.4 percent of state energy needs.
Fortunately, existing pipelines, compressor, and pump stations provide this inexpensive energy resource from outside the state. Pipeline systems are important to New York. They are part of the energy delivery system that is out of sight and taken for granted.
Opponents to two additional pipeline connectors from out-of-state supply sources have raised our awareness of state energy needs.
I was surprised to find that coal; provides only 2.2 percent of New York’s energy needs. Coal provides a high percentage of energy needs in the Midwestern states where that energy source is readily found.
One final point in our understanding of energy sources that serves New York is that years ago, Canada made a decision to export its abundant energy resources.
A result from that decision allowed A 330- mile, 1,000 megawatt power line now under construction in Lake Champlain and under the Hudson River to help meet energy needs in New York City.
An Associated Press article dated Aug. 3 reported four additional power line projects into the New England states. No doubt there will be protests as these plans move toward construction.
These power projects are possible from long-ago decisions by the Canadian government agency called Hydro-Quebec. That agency has built many hydro-energy dams over the last 70 years and developed 36,429 megawatts of hydro-energy.
The many reservoirs that developed this hydro-energy are located out of sight hundreds of miles north of the St Laurence River. Those reservoirs have flooded over 4,200 square miles of land, which is equivalent to 8.6 times the surface area of Lake Champlain. The environmental trade-off for hydro-energy is obvious.
Reliable energy is a very complex subject and out of the public view.
No one wants rationed fuel or experience brown-outs and black-outs. Unexpected blackouts have occurred and disasters happen, such as the 1998 ice storm that destroyed 370 miles of high-voltage power in Canada and significant electrical service in Northern New York.
No state regulator wants to shut down natural gas service to commercial and factory customers in order to ensure service to homes during a very cold winter.
The energy infrastructure must be continuously updated in an expanding economy. We should not protest various components of the energy infrastructure, but support environmentally sound construction.
Russell Wege is a retired engineer from Glenville.