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Retiring nuclear plants make it harder to hit targets

New York — Although the Green New Deal has thus far failed to gain bipartisan support at the federal level, its implications are already being felt as Northeastern US states work to achieve ambitious clean energy goals, some of which present considerable power market challenges, experts said Friday.

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In February, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat-New York) and Senator Ed Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts) introduced a framework called the Green New Deal, outlining measures that could drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power, transportation and agricultural sectors. The non-binding resolution was advanced by the House, but rejected by the Senate.

Nevertheless, the Northeast region already is dealing with implications of the Green New Deal through actions states are taking to address climate change by advancing renewable energy production and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, David Gahl, senior director of state affairs for the Northeast trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, said during the S&P Global Platts 14th Annual Northeast Power and Gas Markets Conference in New York.

New York has very ambitious clean energy goals such as 50% clean energy by 2030, recently upped to 70% by 2030 and 100% by 2040. The goals include 6,000 MW of solar power by 2025, 9,000 MW of offshore wind by 2035 and 3,000 MW of energy storage capacity by 2030, noted Rana Mukerji, senior vice president of market structures at the New York Independent System Operator.

"We have close to 2,000 MW of wind resources in New York ... and it took 10 years to build," Mukerji said, adding that to get to 50% clean energy by 2030 would take 15,000 MW of new resources with 9,000 MW of solar and 6,000 MW of additional wind power.

That is a "very steep slope for the buildout of renewables," Mukerji said. NYISO's goal is to keep the power markets viable, and an important part of that is ensuring "decisions are made based on price and not subsidies," he said.

An associated challenge is the zero marginal cost for renewables and how to adjust the power markets if variable costs trend to zero, Mukerji said. The capacity market is a "blunt instrument that makes up a large component of generator revenue adequacy," but the grid operator does not want to rely more on it for revenue adequacy, and that means new energy and ancillary products will be needed, he said.

"The reality is if you're going to use technology to get to carbon neutrality that's a great way to do it, but if neutrality means 100% renewables that is just not an honest statement, it's an aspirational political statement," said Gavin Donohue, president of merchant generator trade group Independent Power Producers of New York.

The rate of renewable energy production growth has been less than 0.5% year over year from 2006 to 2018 and that pace must improve to meet the governor's goals, Donohue said.


Nuclear energy advocates have pointed out that reaching emissions reduction goals without the contribution of emission-free nuclear power will be much more challenging. The 677-MW Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station near Boston was permanently shut down Friday, as owner Entergy continues the process of exiting the merchant nuclear power generation business.

"When Pilgrim closes, we will have lost 5 million MWh of carbon-free generation which exceeds by one and a half times all of the carbon-free generation that's been built in Massachusetts," said Michael Twomey, senior vice president of federal policy and governmental affairs for Entergy.

"Reducing carbon without nuclear power is a losing game," Twomey said, and carbon reduction achievements will be one step forward one step back as nuclear plants close.

New York will lose 16 million MWh of carbon-free generation when the 2,000-MW Indian Point nuclear units close in 2020 and 2021 and "all of the installed capacity from wind and solar is around 6 to 8 million MWh so you will lose more than twice the gains you've achieved through the deployment of wind and solar. You will have to install two times as much just to get back to even," Twomey said.

He added that Massachusetts will not hit its 2020 emissions reduction goal without Pilgrim.

-- Jared Anderson,

-- Edited by Richard Rubin,