Part V: Electricity 



Much of our electricity is provided by climate-damaging fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.  Also, with increasingly constrained natural gas supplies, reliance on imported liquefied natural gas poses security risks.  There are high economic, social and environmental costs to nuclear power.  While increasing conservation and efficiency, we must scale up distributed renewable power, currently providing only a tiny fraction of our electricity needs.  

Recommendations for NYC include:

  • set timetables for PlaNYC’s many good energy initiatives, especially the formation of an Energy Planning Board

Recommendations for New York State include:

  • expand net metering to 2 megawatts per site, as in New Jersey

  • distribute smart meters / time-of-use meters, which enable users to choose less costly off-hours electricity

  • raise the New York State Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard to 30% reduction of 2006 electric and gas usage rates by 2015

  • update the State Energy Plan to account for energy volatility

Recommendations for national policy:

  • generate public support for measures bolder than those proposed so far

Nationally, 49% of our electricity is generated by coal, 20% by natural gas, and 19% by nuclear power. [1] One estimate is that 7% of NYC’s electricity is produced by burning oil. [2] Oil can serve as the back-up fuel for natural gas turbines for up to 30 days per year. [3] Natural gas, oil, and coal contribute to climate change directly, and nuclear power has major drawbacks. [4]

1. Current Production

Natural gas. 

Since PlaNYC anticipates increased reliance on natural gas for in-city electricity generation, it should also consider potential volatility in natural gas supplies.  In the 1990s, North American gas supplies were believed to be abundant, leading to natural gas becoming the fuel of choice for new power plants. [5] Now, many experts contend that North American natural gas supplies have already peaked, [6] [Hirsch, Simmons, Darley] and the Geological Survey of Canada says that Canada will not be able to meet US natural gas shortfalls. [7] If the price of natural goes up, so will the price of electricity.  The International Energy Agency expects the worldwide natural gas market to become considerably tighter. [8]


With little public debate, NYC and the US are moving towards increased reliance on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).  Additional LNG will be imported from extremely expensive facilities that have not yet been built, that will be more vulnerable to supply disruption than domestic facilities, will be controlled by foreign governments, and subject to outbidding by other countries. [9]


The current national push toward more coal-fired power plants will be environmentally devastating.  Coal-fired power plants account for almost 40% of annual US carbon dioxide emissions. [10] There are plans to build 150 new coal-fired power plants, all without any mechanism to control carbon dioxide emissions.  If only half of these plants are allowed to go forward, their emissions will negate all of the reductions the rest of the world has committed to under the Kyoto Treaty.  Building those plants would lock us into decades of dirty coal power while eliminating market share for energy efficiency and non-polluting renewable energy sources.  Coal has become increasingly harder to access and mine, leading to the increased use of destructive techniques like mountaintop removal mining and very deep, dangerous mines. [11] Contrary to the conventional wisdom about the abundance of coal, one study concludes that US coal production has already peaked, with world coal production to peak around 2025. [12] 

The recently cancelled FutureGen project, sponsored by a consortium of energy companies and the U.S. DOE, touted new coal power plants using experimental coal gasification and sequestration technologies.  [13] However, a MIT study casts doubt on whether turning coal into a gas before burning it will make it easier to capture carbon and recommends against government support of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology.  It calls for more research into effective ways to sequester and store massive quantities of carbon dioxide from coal – which have not yet been demonstrated to work. [14] Functional carbon sequestration technology does not yet exist, and if it did, history does not suggest that coal companies will give up profits to use them. [15]



Petroleum products are one of the top sources of carbon dioxide emissions. [16] They are subject to increasing volatility in price and supply.


Nuclear power still poses too many unsolved problems to fill our electric generation needs, including the need to store the waste for thousands of years.   According to an MIT report, between 1,000 and 2,000 new nuclear reactors would have to be built around the world by mid-century just to achieve a noticeable reduction in the expected increase in carbon dioxide emissions.  Given the long construction time and great expense of building nuclear plants, that’s not feasible, and would take the limited amount of money to be spent on climate change responses away from faster, cheaper and cleaner solutions.  Nuclear power is completely dependent on taxpayer subsidies, having received over $115 billion from 1947 to 1999.  This doesn’t include the hidden costs of pollution from uranium mining, risks from nuclear weapons proliferation, the dangers of reactor accidents, and the unsolved problem of nuclear waste disposal – not to mention the risk of terrorism. Also, nuclear reactors are unreliable and often must reduce output or shut down during heat waves when electricity demand is highest. [17] 

The Indian Point nuclear power facility, 35 miles north of Times Square, provides approximately 1,900 megawatts of electric capacity and every day of operation uses 2.5 billion gallons of water for cooling. One report found that 60% of the Indian Point’s capacity can largely be replaced by energy efficiency and conservation measures. [18] Another study found that the permanent retirement of both Indian Point units would not lead to any reliability problems in either NYC or Westchester County. There would still be enough power available from generating units located within the City and through import over existing transmission lines to serve expected peak loads while providing adequate capacity reserves. [19]


2. Renewable potential: solar, wind and water

Fortunately, there is a better way.  Many studies show that the US canachieve a zero-CO2 economy without nuclear power, using present or foreseeable technologies.  If the US leads by example, it can convince other countries to follow in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  If we don’t turn away from coal, neither will China or India. [20]

US renewable energy resources are vast and practically untapped, anddomestic solar or wind resources could meet all our electricity needs.  Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on rooftops and parking lots and wind turbines in windy valleys, coastal plains and mountains could supply all US electricity and transportation needs.  Desert solar power plants on 3.4% of the land of New Mexico or solar panels on half the nation’s rooftops and facades could generate 30% of our current electricity. Wind resources in Kansas, North Dakota and Texas could provide 100% of the nation’s electricity. [21]

According to a German Aerospace Centre report it is economically feasible to cut US carbon dioxide emissions by almost 75% within the next 43 years through a massive increase in renewable energy and efficiency improvements, without nuclear power, while almost ending dependence on coal. [22] An American Solar Energy Society report comes to a similar conclusion. [23]

Renewable power can be generated at either centralized plants or distributed (on-site) systems.  Distributed generation is less vulnerable to disruption and, according to a report from the New York State Comptroller's office, benefits both urban revitalization and economic growth. [24] Wind and solar energy are intermittent, but this issue can be bypassed byintegrating them into the grid, as wind is often more plentiful at night, along with more constant micro-hydropower, tidal, and geothermal generating stations.  Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can provide system-wide electricity storage, charging their batteries at night with surplus power, and during the day, discharging back into the grid. [25]

Small wind systems are well suited for rural backyards but are unlikely within New York City because of inadequate wind, engineering risk and insurance liability. [26] Wind power can be generated by large wind farms upstate or offshore, where wind resources are very good but often face community opposition, skeptical local officials, uncertain federal subsidies and transmission problems. [27] Wind power can currently be bought by Con Ed customers. [28] 

Installation of tidal turbines, essentially underwater versions of wind turbines, has begun off Roosevelt Island in the East River.  The complete project would provide up to 10 megawatts, and another 40 megawatts could be installed elsewhere in the harbor. [29]


Solar PV systems are the largest potential source of renewable energy within the City.  Both New York City and State have very good access to sunlight. [30] Most productive during peak electric use on hot summer days, PV systems can help stabilize a strained power grid.  As of November, 2005 PV supplied only 0.002% of the City’s power needs.  With the proper policies, PV could provide 18% of the City’s needs by 2022. [31] A road map created by a coalition of solar industry leaders and policy analysts shows how we can increase the State’s solar capacity from about today's 12 MW to over 2,000 MW by 2017. [32]

Decentralized and resilient. 

We enjoy technological and business systems that are faster and better linked than our ancestors could possibly imagine.  The pressure to make production and distribution as fast as possible increases the risk of sudden breakdown.   Damage in one part of a tightly interconnected system can cascade more readily to other parts. [33]


How can we reduce the dangers?  The answers will vary from system to system, but some general principles are clear.  First, we need to encourage distributed and decentralized production of vital goods like energy and food.  The more power we produce with solar panels on our rooftops, the less vulnerable we’ll be to energy disruptions far away. [34]

A renewable-energy economy could be a decentralized free-market paradise.  Imagine a network of small power producers, ranging from the family that invests in some extra solar panels to the city that owns a fleet of wind turbines – all feeding electricity into a robust electric grid, sharing electrons with Internet-like intelligence and resilience. [35]

3. Recommendations for New York City

Considering our present fuel mix, City efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel dependence start with a heavy burden.  In 2005, over half of the electricity used in the State was generated by fossil fuels. [36] Ensuring stable delivery of electric power over an aging transmission grid, further strained by rising consumer demand, is already a high priority for officials. [37] 

New York State Electricity Production             

coal                 14.0 %

oil                     16.4 %

natural gas       21.7%

nuclear             28.9%

hydroelectric    17.6%

biomass and wind 

The City is required by State law to produce 80% of its power within its borders. There are physical limits on how much electricity can be transmitted into the City from upstate power plants.  City power plants run mostly on natural gas, with oil backup. [38] PlaNYC says, “reducing our demand while absorbing growth will not only be difficult – it has never been done before.” [39]

PlaNYC proposes to:

  • modernize the City’s aging electric grid by accelerating reliability

  • improvements and upgrades

  • form a City Energy Planning Board and Energy Efficiency Authority

  • reduce energy consumption by City government

  • strengthen energy and building codes

  • reduce demand among the City’s largest consumers

  • expand peak load management

  • launch an energy awareness campaign [40]

The Plan includes initiatives to stabilize the electric grid, facilitate repowering, (which increases capacity and reduces pollution), construct power plants and transmission lines, expand clean distributed generation and natural gas infrastructure, and foster the market for renewable energy. These are good recommendations, but they lack timetables for implementation. We recommend such timelines be set, especially to form the Energy Planning Board.  More effort will be needed on behalf of energy conservation, efficiency and renewable power. Recommendations to increase green power capacity include:

  • stable and consistent tax credits

  • long-term power purchase agreements with renewable power producers

  • mandating increased renewable power purchases by utilities

  • mandating renewable energy purchasing by City agencies and large private users private users [41]

  • government supports, incentives and tax credits to lower the price of renewable energy and level the playing field with heavily subsidized fossil and nuclear power

  • removing subsidies for fossil and nuclear power

  • carbon tax

  • expanding net metering to allow on-site renewable energy producers in all customer classes (residential, commercial and industrial) to sell surplus to the grid and to make profitable PV installations on large commercial roofs

New Jersey standards and practices for renewable power are widely considered the national model.  A 2007 report from the Bronx Community College Center for Sustainable Energy recommends City and State policies to encourage continued growth of solar power within the City. [42] They include:

  • increasing PV funding under the State Renewable Portfolio Standard

  • creating a NYC-specific fund for PV system installation

  • substantial incentives scheduled to decline over time

  • mandating a dialogue between Con Ed and system installers on technical barriers

  • removing redundant or unnecessary interconnection and code requirements

  • removing or raising current caps on PV system size

  • requiring PV through City green building mandates

The NYC Apollo Alliance also recommends:

  • creating incentives for greater energy efficiency in City housing and schools

  • decentralizing NYSERDA outreach

  • improving NYSERDA renter programs

  • updating the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) to include project contribution to global warming as main topic for review

  • unbundling electricity by separating utility bills from rent [43]

4. Recommendations for New York State

Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. The recently implemented New York Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard has a goal of reducing electricity and natural gas use by 15% by 2015.  To realize the greater potential for efficiency, the goals can be raised to reduce power use at least 30% by 2015. [44]

Net metering. Net metering should be expanded, from the current maximum of 10 kilowatts to 2 megawatts per system for all customer classes, as in New Jersey.  This would encourage solar PV and other renewable power systems to be profitably installed at medium- to large-sized businesses, schools, and factories, as well as by residences and farms. [45]

Smart metering / time of use metering. Giving people the means to closely monitor and adjust their electricity use lowers their monthly bills and could significantly reduce the need to build new power plants, according to a yearlong government study. [46] New meters with this capacity will allow customers to schedule activities to take advantage of lower off-hours rates. [47]   In 2006, California approved the installation of smart meters which report hourly electricity consumption to 9 million gas and electric household customers. This enables the utility to set pricing that varies by season and time of day and to reward customers who shift energy use to off-peak periods. [48]

State energy plan. We encourage the State Assembly to re-instate a comprehensive State Energy Plan process that explicitly addresses the possibility of oil supply disruptions due to either geological limits or geopolitical events.  The Plan should require that energy efficiency, conservation and renewable power be considered as an alternative to new polluting power generation, and that no new coal and nuclear power generating facilities will be permitted. [49] The State Energy Plan sunset in 2002.




1. US EIA,; Energy Flow Chart, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,; 
US Electric Power Industry Net Generation, US EIA, Oct. 2007,


2. David Manning, Keyspan EVP, Regional Plan Association, May 2007, p. 4,

3. NYC Energy Policy, NYC Energy Policy Task Force, Jan. 2004, P. 16, 

4 . “Nuclear Power: No solution to climate change,” NIRS / WISE International, Feb. 2005,


5. “If winter is bitter, brace for a natural gas crunch,” Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 29, 2005,; “New England power outages possible,” MSNBC, Dec. 6, 2005,

6. “Natural Gas:  It Is Not a Pretty Picture!,” Dr. Robert Hirsch, The Annapolis Center for Science Based Public Policy,; “A Case Study on Peak Energy:  The U.S.’s Natural Gas Disaster,” Matthew Simmons, Simmons & Co. International, May 25, 2004,;High Noon for Natural Gas, Julian Darley,; The Post Carbon Institute,

7. “Natural Gas in North America:  Should We Be Worried?,” David Hughes, Geological Survey of Canada, ASPO World Oil Conference, Oct. 26, 2006,

8. “IEA gives warning of global gas shortage,” The Independent, May 4, 2007,

9."Playing with Fire," Andrew Weissman, publisher,, Jan. 2, 2007;; “The Critical Needs to Examine More Carefully the Role of Liquefied Natural Gas in Meeting Future U.S. Energy Needs,”  part 1and 2, May 17, 2005, and other articles by Weissman.

10. "U.S. Carbon Emissions from Energy Consumption," Energy and Environment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,; "Coal FAQs," Sierra Club,

11. Coal Moratorium Now!,; 700,; End Mountaintop Removal,


12. “Coal: Resources and Future Production,” Energy Watch Group, March 2007,; 
“Burning the furniture,” Richard Heinberg, Museletter, March 2007,

13. FutureGen Alliance,

14. “The Precarious Future of Coal,” MIT Technology Review, March 14, 2007,


15. "Coal FAQs," Sierra Club,

16."US Carbon Emissions from Energy Consumption," Energy and Environment and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,

17. “Nuclear power can’t stand the heat,” Public Citizen, August 2007,; The Future of Nuclear Power, Aug. 2003, MIT, summary report, p. 13;; 
Public Citizen Energy Program, April 2006,;
“Energy Demands on Water Resources,” US Dept. of Energy, Dec. 2006,

18.“Indian Point Draft Permit Released for Public Review,” NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Dec. 2003,;
“Securing Power Through Energy Efficiency and Conservation in New York,” Charles Komanoff, for Riverkeeper, Pace Law School Energy Project, & NRDC, May 2002; 


19. “Revised Indian Point Retirement Reliability Assessment,” Synapse Energy Economics,Inc., Feb. 2003, 

20. "Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free:  A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy,” Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Nuclear Policy Research
Institute and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Aug. 2007,


21. “American Energy:  The Renewable Path to Energy Security,” Worldwatch Institute, Sept. 2006, pp. 20, 26, 31,

22. "Energy Revolution," German Aerospace Center, Jan. 2007,

23. “Tackling Climate Change in the US,” ASES, Jan. 2007,


24. “Rethinking the Grid:  Distributed Generation and Urban Development, Jeff Perlman,American City, April 2005,; “Energizing the Future:  The Benefits of Renewable Energy for New York State, March 2005, Office of New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi,

25. “The plug in hybrid for sustainability without oil,” Andrew Frank, ASPO-USA Conference, October 2006,, “Carbon Free and Nuclear Free,”


26. “Small Wind Electric Systems:  A New York Consumer’s Guide,” US Dept. of Energy, Feb. 2005,

27. Support Long Island Offshore Wind Power,

28. Con Ed Solutions,

29. Verdant Power,

30. NY Solar Energy Industries Association,; “Meeting Peak Demand with Photovoltaics,” Professor Richard Perez, Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, SUNY, 2001,

31. “NYC’s Solar Energy Future,” Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College, Jan. 2006; “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resource Development Potential in New York State:  Vol. 4:  Renewable Supply Technology Report,” J. Plunkett, A. Shipley, D. Hill and C. Donovan (2003b),

32. "NY’s Solar Roadmap," May 2007, Solar Initiative of NY,

33. Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down, 2006,

34. “Caught up in our own connections,” Thomas Homer-Dixon, NY Times, Aug. 13, 2005,

35. “Where is the energy for freedom?” Kelpie Wilson, Truthout, Jan. 18, 2007,

36. "NYPIRG's Consumer Guide: Buying Clean and Green Electricity for Your Home," NYPIRG,;

37. PlaNYC,; “Global Electricity Grids Strained,” BBC News, June 9, 2005,

38. NYC Energy Task Force Report, 2004, p. 9, 16,


39. PlaNYC 2030, p. 102.

40. PlaNYC,

41. “Powering the Big Apple: Policy and System Factors Affecting the Deployment and Use of Renewable Power in New York City,” Stephen Hammer, London School of Economics, 2004;; “Transatlantic Energy,” Stephen Hammer, Sallan Foundation, Feb. 27, 2006,

42. “New York City’s Solar Energy Future, Part II:  Solar Energy Policies and Barriers in New York City,” Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College, CUNY, Jan. 2007.

43. “Repowering Gotham: State Action to Build New York City’s New Energy Economy,” NYC Apollo Alliance, Dec. 2006,

44. "Case 07-M-0548, Energy Efficiency Porfolio Standard," NY State Public Service Commission,

45. Environmental Advocates of New York,; 
NY Solar Energy Industries Association,


46. “Digital tools help users save energy, study finds,” NY Times, Jan. 10, 2008;

47. "Smart Metering," NYSERDA, Fall 2003,

48. “Pacific Gas & Electric Company ’s Smart Meter Proposal Approved by California Public Utilities Company,” news release, Pacific Gas and Electric Commission, July 20, 2006,

49. Personal communication, Bill Reinhardt, NYSERDA, Oct. 2007; "State Energy Planning,"NYSERDA,;