Ensuring New York's Energy Resilience: An "All of the Above" Strategy for a Dependable Future

In the frigid aftermath of last Christmas, the specter of a massive energy failure loomed over New York City. An editorial by the Wall Street Journal discussed this “Nightmare Before Christmas” scenario that was detailed in a recent report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation that highlighted the vulnerabilities in the state's energy infrastructure, exposing the potential for catastrophic blackout consequences.

As advocates for a comprehensive energy strategy, one that embraces all available options, we find it imperative to address these issues head-on.

The winter storm Elliott revealed a critical flaw in the resilience of New York's energy systems. Power plant failures, exacerbated by cold weather, threatened the stability of the grid for the fifth time in just over a decade. Gas generators faltered, and the freeze in the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits, key natural gas suppliers, led to a 23% to 54% reduction in production. As demand for electricity and heating surged, the pressure in pipelines supplying downstate New York plummeted.

Con Edison, located at the end of these interstate pipelines, faced a perilous situation. To prevent a catastrophic collapse of its system, the utility had ordered its dual fuel customers to switch to their oil heating systems and activate a liquefied natural gas regasification plant.  National Grid did the same. The scenario painted in the report is chilling – an entire system potentially lost for months, leaving countless New Yorkers without heat during harsh winter conditions.

The vulnerability of our energy systems is exacerbated by the evolving landscape. With the decline of coal and nuclear power plants, competition from heavily subsidized green energy, and the growing challenges posed by extreme weather conditions, our energy infrastructure is on shaky ground. Even gas power, considered more reliable than wind and solar, can succumb to fuel shortages in icy conditions.

While much of the nation’s pursuit of clean electric generation remains focused on intermittent power generation sources like wind and solar, the strain on an already stressed grid could lead to widespread outages that could jeopardize both reliability and human lives. A recent reliability report from the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) underscores the pressing need for a robust and diversified energy strategy.

The NYISO projects a substantial increase in electricity demand, estimating a need for 111-124 gigawatts of new or modified generation by 2040, triple the current thermal generating capacity of 37.4 GW. The looming power shortfall in 2025 presents a significant challenge, requiring immediate action to ensure a reliable energy grid.

In response to these challenges, the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition-NY advocates for a smooth transition to a clean energy future. An "All of the Above" Energy Strategy is the key – a strategy that prioritizes reliability, embraces a "Just Transition" for skilled energy workers, and explores a range of technologies, including geothermal systems, hydrogen, and new, safer nuclear systems.

To address the reliability challenge highlighted by NYISO, we must reconsider the potential of unused power plants and explore upgrades with green-tech retrofits. These moves can significantly reduce emissions, prevent reliability issues, and stimulate the local economy through job creation.

Additionally, New York should tap into the expertise of skilled energy trades to implement solutions swiftly. An inspirational example from World War I, where pipelines were built from Texas to New York in 355 days, showcases American ingenuity in the face of adversity. We must harness that same spirit to build a defensive energy system that ensures uninterrupted power for all New Yorkers.

The importance of reliability should not be taken lightly. A state policy from 2019 would have eliminated 3,300 MW of electricity from the state power grid by mandating the closing of gas-fired peaker plants. That same policy also gave the state grid operator some flexibility to keep those plants open if needed. Thankfully NYISO acted by prioritizing reliability and mandated that the peaker plants remain operational to protect the health and safety of millions of New Yorkers

The "All of the Above" Energy Strategy calls for a careful balance between retiring traditional generation and investing in new, reliable resources. It encourages the exploration of innovative solutions like geothermal energy networks, clean hydrogen, renewable natural gas, biogas, thermal energy systems, and advanced nuclear power. These options offer 24/7 reliability, independent of weather conditions, and create stable middle-class jobs.

As NYISO explores solutions to address the identified reliability need and FERC issued stern recommendations in its report, New York must commit to strengthening electric reliability and embracing a strategy that encompasses all viable options. An "All of the Above" approach ensures a smooth transition to a clean energy future, guaranteeing reliable, 24/7 electricity for all New Yorkers. It's time to plan, not ban, and secure a resilient energy future for the Empire State.