Clean Energy Supporters Divided On How To Meet Emissions Targets | News, Sports, Jobs


While many environmental groups applaud the policy, some oppose what they call a costly and unnecessary investment in nuclear power. (Photo provided – David Sommerstein / North Country Public Radio)

In 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo set one of the country’s most ambitious green energy goals by signing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“Climate change is an undeniable scientific fact, period. To deny climate change is to deny reality ”, Cuomo said during the signing ceremony.

The law created a Climate Action Council to guide policy and help achieve the state’s goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2040. How that goal will be achieved remains an open question.

A recent meeting of the Council’s Advisory Committee on Clean Energy exposed the disagreements that exist among climate hawks, particularly regarding the role of fossil fuels and nuclear power during the transition period of 20 years.

However, committee members and the general public were overwhelmingly supportive of meeting the 2040 clean energy target.

Sarah Osgood chairs the subcommittee which focuses on power generation and says phasing out fossil fuels won’t be easy, but has to happen.

“It is generally accepted that installations powered by fossil fuels should not be allowed to operate after 2040”, Osgood told committee members about Zoom.

New York, however, has a long way to go before achieving fully renewable generation. Currently, only 27% of the state’s electricity is supplied from renewable sources, according to federal data.

To accelerate the transition to green energy, some members of the Climate Action Council want a ban on the construction of new fossil fuel installations. Lisa Dix, of the Sierra Club, was among the members supporting the moratorium proposal.

“Adding new fossils to our grid is going in the wrong direction, in terms of reducing this curve,” Ten argued.

“It makes no sense to continue to evolve and produce gas in the short term.”

However, other members were not on board.

John Reese, an executive at Eastern Generation, the operator of three gas-fired power plants in New York City, said he supported the 2040 phase-out, but not an immediate ban.

“For me, adding a moratorium before going through this process is giving up the due process that we have put in place. A moratorium today does not take into account all the factors that we must take into account. “ Said Reese.

“He forgets substance and complexity”, he added, equating this approach with the “Just say no” Reagan era anti-drug campaign.

Regular New Yorkers were also divided.

During public comments at a hearing earlier this month, members of the public were uniformly in agreement on the need to meet the 2040 target, but not on how to do it.

Much of the disagreement centered on how best to phase out natural gas, which currently accounts for 35% of New York’s electricity production.

Several commentators, including Eric Dawson of the community advocacy group Nuclear New York, urged the committee to phase out gas by expanding the role of nuclear power.

There are two broad categories of technology: there is technology that works today and technology that might work in the future, ”Dawson argued.

“There is nothing wrong with investing more money in [research and development] and technology that could work to improve batteries, solar panels and wind turbines, but all of this cannot help us increase zero-emission electricity to the level we need today ”. he added.

Others, like Amber Ruther with the Alliance for a Green Economy, have strongly opposed the idea of ​​expanding the use of nuclear power.

“Nuclear power is more expensive than large-scale wind and solar, and its costs are only increasing, while the costs of wind and solar are falling.” Ruther testified.

“Nuclear takes too long to build and no longer makes economic sense and creates radioactive waste that we have no viable plan to store safely for thousands of years,” she added.

Organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Atomic Energy Agency say nuclear power can be a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, former IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said atomic energy would be needed to meet the emissions targets set in the Paris Agreement on weather.

“Nuclear power plants produce virtually no emissions of greenhouse gases or air pollutants during their operation. emissions over their entire life cycle are very low ”, Amano told the audience of diplomats.

36% of New York’s electricity currently comes from nuclear, although that number is expected to drop soon.

Indian Point, the nuclear power plant located just north of New York, is expected to close in late April 2021. In the short term, it will be replaced by gas generators.

The situation highlights one of the central challenges of the decarbonisation effort. Some climate advocates claim that despite the toxic waste it produces, nuclear is the lesser of two evils due to its smaller carbon footprint.

This view was taken by Charlie Foyerman in his comments at the Self-Power Hearing. The Queens high school student argued passionately that adding more gas to the grid would be a step in the wrong direction.

Foyerman said young New Yorkers are desperate for a solution.

“There are a lot of students in my class who really care about the environment,” he noted.

“My friends can’t imagine a future where we decarbonize over time, a future of freedom, but they can imagine their families. It cannot be boiled down to that. Where is the justice?

Whichever combination of power sources the state chooses, the grid will need the ability to quickly adjust power generation to meet demand throughout the day, known as base load in the grid. energy language.

The intermittent nature of wind and solar makes these sources difficult to use for base load.

Demand for electricity typically peaks in the evening, when people arrive home after work and turn on lights, turn on home electronics, and prepare meals. The production of electricity from renewable energies generally peaks during the day, when the sun is the brightest.

In addition, electricity consumption will increase significantly in the coming years as gasoline cars and trucks are replaced by electric vehicles.

A popular idea for solving the baseload problem is to develop large-scale battery storage facilities. This could allow excess energy produced from renewable sources to be stored during the day until peak demand in the evening.

However, this solution is still largely conceptual and presents technical and financial obstacles.

Sarah Osgood, chair of the clean energy committee and recently appointed executive director of the New York Climate Action Council, argued that while we don’t have the answer, we can’t afford to delay the transition.

“All the solutions are not yet known and the transition requires innovative and holistic planning”, Osgood told committee members.

Meeting the baseload challenge will be critical to determining whether New York City and the rest of the world can successfully transition to a carbon-free future.

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