is a big topic in our region. So let's put our electricity sources into perspective.
The total electricity generation capacity in New York State comes from three fuel sources: Fossil fuels (48% of total generation capacity); Nuclear (30%); Renewables (22%).
Within fossil fuels, the main types in descending order of emissions per energy unit burned (from dirtiest to less dirty) are coal, petroleum oil, and natural gas.
New York is experiencing a positive trend within the fossil fuels as older, dirtier coal plants are retired and replaced with cleaner, higher efficiency natural gas plants. Among the three fossil fuel sources for electricity, the good new is the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas, is expanding, while the other dirtier sources are declining as a percent of the total generation capacity.
The gains in natural gas come from both new plants and repowering existing gas plants sites with much more efficient turbines, that burn the same volume of gas but produce more electricity per incoming therm.
Within nuclear sources, New York has no discernible room for expansion. The nuclear plants operate pretty at full capacity when they are not down for maintenance or refueling.
Another way to look at this is that nuclear power’s contribution to electricity generation in New York has peaked. Nuclear power will not be able to increase unless we decide to build an entirely new facility.
The only new nuclear plant under construction in the United States is in Georgia. And that one is the first in 30 years to get the needed approvals and financial backing. So expanding nuclear to help us fuel our future seems very unlikely.
It is worth noting that the lights in Westchester do not go out when Indian Point is down for any reason. Other fuel sources already cover for Entergy’s facility until it comes back on line.
Any growth in our economy that brings increased electric demand will have to get that power from sources other than nuclear. But there is good news on that front.
Renewables are actually increasing their share of our state’s generation capacity. In descending order of current generation capacity, the main renewable sources are hydropower, wind, and solar electric (photovoltaic).
The state has been upgrading a host of hydropower plants, particularly upstate along the St Lawrence River, with good success and without much fanfare.
In addition, wind power, especially in the central and western part of the state has been expanding steadily.
In 2011, the state launched the largest ever incentives for commercial-scale photovoltaic installations on large customer’s rooftops in Westchester and New York City. This program will bear fruit in 2013 and beyond.
Then there is the fourth fuel source, energy efficiency ("EE") and conservation. EE is by far the cheapest fuel. For example, an upgrade of lighting in a commercial building can permanently lower the monthly utiliy bills and pay for itself within 2 or 3 years.
We have tremendous potential to curb future electric demand growth by upgrading all kinds of equipment that hog electricity now, from lighting, to air compressor, pumps, and more. We can also lower future demand by changing our behavior to avoid peak congestion.
Behavior change is already happening as work habits evolve under the economic recovery. More folks are telecommuting and work hours are no longer the usual “9 to 5.”
In fact, the entire state’s projected demand for electricity has shrunk during the recession, buying us another 3 to 4 years to ramp up cleaner sources, including efficiency.
PS: You can look up more about the state’s grid and generation capacity in the NYISO's "2011 Gold Book."