New York Emissions & Energy - Where We Are Today
New York is at a crossroads in terms of emissions reductions and energy. Protecting the environment is important, however reliable, affordable, quality and resilient energy for all building owners and businesses is also important in order to maintain a stable economy and public safety in New York City and across the State. Far from being the worst emitter of greenhouse gases, New York has worked diligently to protect its scenic and pristine environment from the sights of Niagara Falls, to the majesty of the Adirondack Mountains and the pleasures of the Atlantic beaches on Long Island. Since the State and its inhabitants are rapidly moving into uncharted territory in terms of emissions regulations and energy transition, it’s useful to understand where New York stands in terms of emissions and energy.
State of Emissions in New York
As the fourth most populous state having a metropolis of nearly 16.5 millions people, it may seem counter-intuitive that New York could be a national leader in several categories related to CO2 emissions. However, through various intentional efforts and fortunate circumstances, that's where New York already finds itself.
New York City is the most densely populated city in the nation with more 10,000 people per square mile, and along with Long Island constitutes the largest metropolitan area with more than 8.9 million people. It's this very large and dense population that enables the State to have the lowest per capita CO2 emissions and petroleum consumption. The New York metro area has a huge percentage of the State's population of 20.4 million people living in multifamily buildings or close-packed communities, not needing to drive or taking mass transit to work. Compared to other states, this significantly skews the "per capita" emissions numbers in New York's favor.
Figure 1 shows New York State's CO2 emissions 1990 to 2016 compared to those of Texas and California, the #1 and #2 highest CO2 emitting states, respectively, and Pennsylvania, the #4 emitter and New York's neighboring state. While Texas and California are the biggest CO2 emitters in the U.S., several factors must be taken into consideration. Both states saw huge absolute and percentage increases in population over the period. Texas is also the largest energy producing state, but half of that energy goes to industrial consumption which is primarily energy related. This is evident in the large drop in CO2 emissions around the start of the 2008 recession.
Throughout this period, New York was investing in cleaner and more efficient natural gas-fired power plants while phasing out oil and coal-fired plants. New York's remaining three operational coal-fired power are likely to be deactivated if and when the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) determines they are not needed to stabilize the grid. Furthermore, it can be seen in Figure 2 that industrial energy consumption dropped during the same period by almost 45% which also contributed to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
New York State is blessed with clean, emission-free generating capacity that accounts for more much of its electricity production. With water resources including Niagara Falls and the Saint Lawrence River, the State is the 3rd largest producer of emissions-free hydroelectric power in the country. New York also has six nuclear plants generating approximately one-third of all of the State’s electricity. Between hydro, nuclear, wind and solar generation, more than 65% of New York’s electricity comes from “clean” sources. It’s also clear that the State has been extremely successful in replacing coal and oil-fired electrical generation with much cleaner and less expensive natural gas.
Source of New York's Emissions
New York State's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) and New York City's OneNYC 2050 both call for the elimination or offset of emissions by 2050 to be in line with the intent of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. Figure 3 below shows the magnitude of that challenge.
While Figure 1 shows that New York has been successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Figure 3 shows the magnitude and source of the remaining emissions. The fossil fuel referenced is gasoline and diesel for transportation, primarily natural gas for electricity generation and mostly natural gas with some fuel oil for building heating and hot water.
At 36%, transportation is the largest single source of Greenhouse gas emissions and the single largest consumer of fossil fuels. Collectively, buildings (residential, commercial and industrial) are the second largest source at 30%. Even though electricity generation comes in a distant third, it's important to recognize that much of that electricity is consumed in buildings of all types to run HVAC, lighting, refrigeration, appliances, devices, etc.
If the emissions from electrical generation were apportioned by the point of consumption, buildings statewide would be the largest source of emissions at roughly 40%. In fact, according to data from the New York City Council, buildings in the City (including their electrical consumption) are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions with transportation (on-road and mass transit) contributing just 24% of emissions. The difference in the percentages is due to the very high density of buildings plus the much lower rate of car ownership in the City.
New York City has further broken down of the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings over 50,000 square feet as shown in Figure 4. Businesses include doctor's, lawyer's, veterinarian's and engineer's offices, beauty and barber shops, banks, outpatient clinics and cleaners. Institutions include adult and child day care, assisted living, group homes and rehabilitation and similar facilities. Mercantile includes all retail-type facilities such as stores, showrooms, supermarkets, etc. Assembly includes uses such as bars, restaurants, theaters, libraries, museums and music halls.
State of Energy in New York
Today, more than 90% of New York's electricity already comes from clean hydro, nuclear and low-carbon natural gas as shown in Figure A.
This mix of energy sources has proven to provide businesses and residents with reliable, quality electricity at a somewhat high but not unreasonable reasonable prices as shown in Figure B. If hydro-generation is considered renewable, then New York is already generating an impressive 25% of its electricity from renewable resources. Over the next decade, however, all of this will change in numerous ways and with potentially unforeseen consequences.
Nuclear Electrical Generation
To start with, the six nuclear plants (Figure C) in the State have been real the workhorses, with outstanding capacity factors, when it comes to generating more than 30% of the State's electricity. Unfortunately, all of them are between 30 and 50+ years old, and in April 2020 and April 2021, two of the biggest and newest nuclear plants are scheduled for decommissioning: Indian Point Units 2 & 3. These two plants represent 12% of the total kilowatt-hours generated, and there are presently no plans for any new nuclear plants in New York.
Although New York sits atop large reserves, the production of natural gas in the State is virtually zero and is likely to remain so. Despite State agencies promoting natural gas as a cleaner option to coal and oil for electricity generation, building heating and hot water and industrial processes for decades, both New York State and City have plans calling for the elimination of natural gas as a primary energy source for electricity generation within 30 years (2050).
The New York State Independent System (grid) Operator (NYISO) identified 347 hydroelectric facilities in the State in 2018. Of these, two facilities are among the largest in the country: the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant (13 x 205MW - 2,675MW total) and the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project (16 x 51.3MW – 821MW total). The Niagara Power Plant is second in size only to the Hoover Dam among U.S. hydroelectric stations. These two plants account for more than 82% of all hydroelectric power generated in New York in 2018.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation indicates that hydropower is not likely to increase as dramatically as other renewables such as wind and solar. New hydroelectric facilities face increased environmental scrutiny which increases costs. There is the potential to “repower” some existing dams that don’t have generating systems. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that such repowering in New York might amount to 295MW or slightly more than 5% of the existing hydroelectric capacity.
Additional water-related electricity generation may come from:
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation reports the State lacks natural geyser or hot spring resources suitable for electricity production. Nonetheless, geothermal heat pumps are widely utilized to support energy-efficient building heating and cooling across the State.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, New York ranks 6th among all states with 1,717MW of solar generating capacity installed. New York’s solar generating capacity is spread across more than 115,000 installations which averages out to slightly less than 15kW per site.
New York has plenty of land available upstate for solar installations, but numerous upstate locations including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Albany frequently appear on lists of the least sunny cities in the U.S. This doesn’t preclude solar installations but makes the economics more challenging. While the amount of land varies by solar technology, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study puts the average land needed for solar panels at 6.9 acres per megawatt. This means that supplying today’s electricity needs of New York City would require an area the size of Queens (108 sq. miles) with every inch covered in solar panels.
Wind energy is the second-largest source of renewable generation in New York after hydroelectric. Wind accounted for only slightly more than one-tenth of all renewable generation in 2018 The State's first utility-scale wind-powered generation came online in 2000 with a 11.6 MW and 6.6MW wind farms in central upstate (Madison) and western upstate (Wethersfield), NY, respectively. As of 2018, New York had just under 1,900 MW of utility-scale wind capacity at more than two dozen wind farms.
Future wind generation installations will most likely be located to the east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, along the Long Island shoreline and on peaks of the Adirondack Mountains and the Catskill Mountains. The State's highest peaks, however, are in state parks and could face stiff siting opposition. Other areas off the Long Island coast have been identified for large-scale offshore wind farms with several projects under development.