An opinion piece in the May 12 Gazette by Karen Cookson suggests that our state could become energy independent with wind, water and solar sources by the year 2030, a mere 17 years in the future.
I know that such a lofty goal is impossible. But many who oppose gas energy development believe that renewable energy development can satisfy our needs in such a short period of time. I believe it is important to present information that will more accurately show the energy picture.
Earlier research found that renewable energy sources currently running about 4 percent will more than double to 10 percent by the year 2030. That increase in renewable energy is very desirable.
My initial research on energy is a few years old. Since that time the federal Environmental Protection Agency has enacted new regulations that will probably stop future coal-fired power plant construction. The impact of that decision is still unfolding. So I went back to my computer to do a little more research.
I found a 34-page report by the National Conference of State Legislatures that developed some very interesting information. The report summarized federal activity after the blackout in 2003, where 50 million people in the Northeast lost power.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission organized the nation’s 5,400 power plant owners into Independent System Operators and Regional Transmission Organizations that cross state lines and prevent such power failures from recurring. This support system also reaches into Canada, which is very important to New York, as some of our electrical energy comes from Hydro-Quebec (as more will in the future).
This complex of interconnected systems is currently fueled by coal (44 percent), natural gas (24 percent), nuclear (20 percent), hydro, which is considered a renewable, (7 percent), and other renewables, primarily wind (4 percent) and oil (1 percent).
The U.S. Department of Energy forecast that by the year 2035, the nation’s energy needs will increase 22 percent and its mix will be: coal (44 percent), natural gas (20 percent), nuclear (17 percent) hydro (7 percent), other renewables (13 percent) and oil remaining at (1 percent).
This multistate and DOE energy mix forecast is similar to the forecast by the energy industry.
It is interesting to see how states develop their own energy plans, based on what energy sources are most abundant in that state. For example, the state of Washington produces 75 percent of its energy from hydro plants, and Indiana produces almost all its power from coal.
New York’s electrical generated energy has a high percentage mix from hydro power, primarily due to the Niagara and St. Lawrence River installations constructed 50 years ago. Whereas nationally, hydro power will remain flat at 7 percent, New York’s hydro component will increase after construction of a new transition line from Hydro-Quebec.
The salient point is that renewable energy sources will not replace coal, natural gas and nuclear energy in the foreseeable future.
Please do not misunderstand; I am in favor of alternative energy sources. I even agree that certain renewable energy sources should be encouraged by government — on a temporary basis. But when I learned that federal support for solar and wind energy is 15 to 100 times greater than coal ($0.44), natural gas ($0.25), hydro ($0.67), nuclear (1.59), solar ($24.34) and wind ($23.37), per million watt hours, it is time to seriously re-evaluate a reliance on wind and solar energy.
Potential for development
In addition, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that the Plains states from Canada to Texas have the greatest potential for wind energy development. That report marginalizes the wind energy potential in the Northeast.
Solar energy development also has problems. The prime location for solar development is in the sunny Southwest section of the country. Again, the Northeast region has a marginal or less potential for significant solar development. As a reinforcement to that reality, the report states that five to 10 acres of land is necessary for the generation of one megawatt of electricity. A Niagara-sized solar plant would require 8 to 15 square miles of land!
It is one thing for solar construction to utilize the empty desert lands of the Southwest, but quite another to take significant acreage of farm and forest lands out of production in the Northeast!
New York is blessed with great natural gas reserves. We are at a “fork in the road.” We can limit ourselves to utilizing only certain sources of energy and pay higher costs for all goods and services, or we can utilize all available energy sources and enjoy stable energy costs for goods and services. Gov. Cuomo, we await your decision.
Russ Wege, a retired engineer, lives in Glenville. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.