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The Next 2 Years Are Critical for New York City’s Electricity

The city is caught between its energy past and future.

The Next 2 Years Are Critical for New York City’s Electricity

There’s a reason decarbonization advocates talk so much about power lines. Without them, the fruits of non-carbon-emitting forms of electricity generation, which are often located far away from population centers or are only available when it’s sunny and windy, can’t be fully harvested in the form of electrons flowing to customers when they need them.

The New York state electricity system operator said in a report released Friday that New York City specifically is at risk of a shortfall of 446 megawatts — about enough to power over 350,000 homes — of transmission for nine hours on an especially hot summer day in 2025 when demand for electricity is at its peak.

To those that follow New York state energy planning specifically or, like me, have the sickness that is reading reports from grid operators across the country all the time, the result was not surprising.

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  • The New York Independent System Operator (New York ISO) chalked up the shortfall to a combination of planned shutdowns of some natural gas plants, called peakers, that switch on when demand is high and can’t be supplied with existing resources, as well as expected growth in electricity demand from both economic growth as well as increased used of electricity for building heat and vehicles.

    So far, peakers generating just over 1,000 megawatts have either shut down or reduced their operation, and another almost 600 megawatts of New York City peakers are scheduled to do so in less than two years. This has been a deliberate policy choice by the state. Two plants in the New York City area had their plans for upgrades rejected in 2021; state regulations on nitrous oxide emissions have effectively made several of these types of plants uneconomic to run.

    “With the additional peakers unavailable, the bulk power transmission system will not be able to securely and reliably serve the forecasted demand in New York City,” according to New York ISO.

    While this may seem like an issue of generation (i.e. producing the power) as opposed to transmission (moving it around), New York ISO projects that this shortfall “is expected to improve” in 2026, when the long awaited and under construction Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), a transmission line that would bring hydropower from Quebec to downstate New York, is scheduled to come into operation.

    New York City is caught between its energy past and energy future, and like many areas that are aggressively promoting renewables and retiring existing fossil fuel generation, there is a worry that reliability may suffer in the interim.

    The plan is to build out a combination of renewable energy and storage to meet downstate’s needs. This includes massive installations of wind power which will hopefully both directly provide electricity as well as charge batteries which can be used to dispatch power when generation is otherwise falling short. The shortfall between New York's decarbonization goals and its ability to produce carbon-free electricity was exacerbated by the shutdown of Indian Point nuclear power plant in the Hudson River between 2019 and 2021, which corresponded to an immediate uptick in fossil fuel emissions.

    Regulators and grid operators across the country have echoed New York ISO regularly, voicing concern about reliability as the renewable buildout runs into barriers of inadequate transmission and delays, while fossil fuel plant shutdowns happen quickly.

    But this doesn’t mean that every state or region trying to decarbonize its electricity grid is doomed to blackouts. California is facing a massive heat wave and, at least so far, its grid operator is not expecting any major issues, partially thanks to plentiful hydropower and its massive buildout of energy storage. (It also will likely keep some gas-fired power plants in operation past their original decommissioning date).

    And in New England, the grid operator concluded that an expensive terminal for importing liquefied natural gas could probably close in 2025 without imperiling the electricity system (although this depended on there being ample supply of oil for power plants to run in the winter when natural gas is used for heat). Overall, New England, which has been fretting about its energy reliability for years, has turned more optimistic, thanks in part to a substantial buildout of rooftop solar, which reduces demand on the gird.

    But the report does raise the question of just how fast the grid can get away from gas in any region in the midst of the energy transition. For example, there are still plans for a new peaker plant in Peabody, Massachusetts, despite a state law with the goal of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030 and reaching net zero in 2050.

    The 2019 rules which are responsible for the peaker shutdowns envision up to four years of extensions “if the generator is designated by the NYISO or by the local transmission owner as needed to resolve a reliability need until a permanent solution is in place.” Whether transmission, wind power, and storage can be built by then is the challenge New York faces.

    Read more about power lines:

    Here Come the Power Lines

    The Canadian Wildfires Ominously Messed Up a Clean Energy Power Line

    The Real Climate Defeat in the Debt Ceiling Deal

    Matthew Zeitlin

    Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine. Read More

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