Renewables come with a price: goals on power stress system

Dunkirk Harbor is featured in a cool video made by the city of Dunkirk in its application for a $10 million New York state grant. By illustrating its additions to the value of this greatest natural asset, the city earned a visit from Gov. Kathy Hochul to announce the well-earned winning of the award. The harbor has just escaped devaluation in the form of an offshore wind energy project which had been considered by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for the second time since 2011.

NYSERDA’s Great Lakes Wind Energy Feasibility Study released last month had placed the harbor in the epicenter of development bringing offshore wind turbines, transmission cables and an armada of shipping related to construction and operation. While those who love the lake’s natural qualities can breathe a sigh of relief, for now, the NYSERDA study has more to say about Chautauqua County and the state’s aggressive climate goals.

Following the obvious environmental risks and exorbitant costs, NYSERDA’s most compelling reason for abandoning the offshore Lake Erie concept is found in the section of the study describing limitations of both local and state-wide electricity transmission systems. Dunkirk Harbor is listed as the best case landing and point of power grid insertion for an underwater cable linked to rows of wind turbines placed five miles from the Central Pier.

This would require $68.8 million of upgrades to our local grid zone to allow connection, but would not offer compliance with state law requiring a zero-emissions power grid by 2040. Because NYSERDA’s study does not detail the limitations of state-wide transmission we must reference the state’s grid manager New York Independent Systems Operator.

NYISO began presenting its “Tale of Two Grids” in 2017, wherein the absence of a major bulk transmission system capable of transmitting power from Western New York and other upstate zones to New York City results in a bottleneck of generation in isolated upstate areas.

Until such time as New York City resolves its 89% dependence on fossil fuels the 2040 goal is unattainable. Lacking the ability to export renewable energy out of our NYISO zone, the Chautauqua County wind and solar facilities spin a carousel of curtailments as they take turns reducing their power output to avoid overloading local transmission capacity.

Although NYISO has announced major grid upgrades and new transmission projects, there is no developer standing in line at NYISO for permission to construct a cross-state bulk transmission line costing tens of billions of dollars. The planned $11 billion Clean Path NY project will reach westward from Queens, 175 miles to Delaware County in order to deliver Renewable Energy Credits from nearby wind/solar plants. All state tax and rate payers will pay for this project specifically intended to address a downstate issue.

Stranded assets are defined by Wikipedia as “assets that have suffered from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluations or conversion to liabilities.” Opposite the way infrastructure improvements to Dunkirk Harbor have added value, our existing and planned wind and solar facilities are stranded assets in relation to the State’s climate goals. Assurance of Lake Erie’s good health awaits a permanent moratorium on placing offshore wind turbines in its waters of life.

A proposed state Senate bill to adopt the moratorium now sits on the desks of senators who control the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee. A more recent U.S. Congressional action with the same intent would prohibit developers of Great Lakes wind energy from collecting federal subsidies.

The first Chautauqua County renewable energy plant, Arkwright Wind, exists at the expense of tax and ratepayers without supporting the State’s 2040 goal. In 2028 it must jump two additional hurdles, the end of its 10-year federal tax credits and a 20% attritional loss of productivity. Its decommissioning should also be the first.

Mark Twichell is a Fredonia resident.


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