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A steady supply of electricity

Thursday, June 06, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

The first hot summer weather has arrived, and the sudden pools of perspiration making sleeping uncomfortable spur the use of air conditioning. The demand for electricity rises along with the temperature, exposing one of New York state's great vulnerabilities -- an inadequate supply of electricity and an antiquated distribution system.

New York's electric supply has taken a hit this last year. Hurricane Sandy cost New York 1,000 megawatts of less daily capacity this summer than last summer. That is enough power to supply a million homes. Sandy so severely damaged a 500-megawatt power plant in Newburgh that its owners simply shut the facility down rather than refurbishing it.

The Independent System Operator (ISO) oversees the state electrical distribution system and operates its wholesale electric market. In its annual appraisal of summer capacity, the ISO warned that downstate would have enough power if the weather was typical and temperatures remained in normal ranges. The ISO said, "Although a surplus of supply is available for the state as a whole, concern remains about the amount of resources available to supply downstate regions, especially during extreme hot weather conditions."

With the backdrop of reduced supply and no new immediate capacity is the desire by the Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to close the Westchester County nuclear power plant, which generates 2,000 megawatts. Indian Point's life may end when its federal licenses expire this year and in 2015.

Hurricane Sandy and the objective to close Indian Point remove as much as 3,000 megawatts of electricity from the state with little immediate prospect of replacement. The prospects to add supply to replace the base load power that Indian Point provides are negligible. Wind power generation will not do the job -- primarily because it is a very expensive alternative that depends upon continual windy days and nights.

New York needs to direct the New York Power Authority to embark on a path that will provide the means to provide the electricity that New Yorkers require year-round to operate their computers, their factories and their houses without sweltering in ever-rising summer temperatures.

The north country is strategically located to provide a helpful avenue to support this strategy. Expansion of the Taylorville power line from Massena to Marcy in its existing footprint would more than double NYPA's ability to import electricity from Hydro Quebec. Quebec's power is generated by hydroelectric facilities across Northern Quebec and is one of the greenest and most reliable forms of electricity available. Rebuilding this 75-year-old line would not only enable delivery of a larger supply of power but also make the state's distribution system more robust.

In addition, the state needs to expand its supply of natural gas to fuel new electric power generation facilities. Burning natural gas to generate power has reduced greenhouse gases measurably in the last five years. Exploiting the Marcellus shale to fuel new gas-burning plants would put upstate New Yorkers to work, aid New York state to become energy independent and lighten the burden on the environment.

Long-term solutions require hard decisions today, but a package to assuage many interests is possible. Closure of a nuclear plant, reduction in greenhouse gases, use of green Canadian hydropower and exploitation of the state's gas supply should provide enough political victories for all factions to allow NYPA to balance our power supply with a growing demand.

No one wants to listen to their air conditioner wheeze to a stop or their iPhone go powerless because the Empire State cannot find the political will to ensure a supply of electricity that does not depend upon a perpetual weather forecast of low temperatures.

-- The Watertown Daily Times


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