Rejecting the Miracle of Public Power

Bloomberg is now leading a crusade against Coal:

That seems rather insane for the mayor of a city that sucks down electricity like it’s going out of style. Gotham consumes about 50 million megawatt-hours of electricity per year. However, if you dive deeper into the facts surrounding electricity and New York, you’ll find out why Bloomberg, being the class A asshole that he is, feels he can lecture the rest of the country on energy. The facts make it easy for Bloomberg to bad mouth coal, but it displays a profound lack of understanding on his part on the energy mix in various parts of the country, and why things are that way.

First, it helps to understand a bit about electricity, how it’s generated, and how it’s transmitted. If there’s one thing that’s universally true about the hippy subspecies belief system, is that if you protest and believe hard enough, we can derive all our power from one hundred percent green unicorn farts. The truth is a bit more complicated. In an electrical distribution system, supply must always equal demand. When supply does not always equal demand Very Bad ThingsTM happen. In order to make sure this is the case, engineers conceptually divide power generation between base power, and peaking power.  Base power is roughly the power required when demand is relatively normal. It’s usually generated either by large coal fired power plants, nuclear power plants, or hydroelectric power plants, depending on what part of the country you’re in. These plants tend to be quite large and efficient, as they will usually operate at, or very close to their overall capacity. When electricity demand exceeds the power demand that can be supplied by base generation, power companies start firing up peaking stations. These are generally smaller, less efficient plants that are powered by petroleum, or more often these days, natural gas. Peaking stations tend to be located much closer to communities that are actually consuming the power being generated.

So where does solar and wind, the favorite source of power for hippies, fit in? Well, it can provide power when it’s available. It can help carry the load of the overall system when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, but because it can’t provide reliable power, it’s utterly useless as a means of providing either base power or peaking power. It can only act as a supplement to the existing power system, and not as a replacement. It can’t even be a significant percentage of power, due to the unreliability of it. The hippy vision, when applied to reality, is an electricity system when you have it available sometimes. We have no way of storing the kind of power a city like New York demands for times when wind and sun aren’t in a mood to give us power. The only remedy in that case is shutting electric consumers off until demand equals supply.

Due to where New York City is located, and due to the fact that New York generates enough wealth to afford sky high electric utility rates, it depends very little on coal as a source of power. Compared to about half for the rest of the country, New York generates less than one fifth its power from coal based plants. New York State also generates far more base power with natural gas than many other energy markets, thanks largely to all of those fracking gas fields in Pennsylvania and Western New York.

But this is largely luck. Hydroelectric power isn’t available in every market. Nuclear power plants are horrendously expensive, and can only be located near significant sources of cooling water. Natural gas is not plentiful and cheap in every energy market. In contrast, coal can be shipped in huge quantities by rail, and used just about anywhere. For parts of the country that are not lucky enough to be located near large pockets of natural gas, near hydroelectric dams, or near major oil pipelines, the only viable alternative to coal is nuclear power, and the greens hate that too. Not to mention that it’s really expensive to build nuclear plants. I’d like to see if folks in Albuquerque, New Mexico would feel OK paying New York and Chicago prices for their electricity.

There is no alternative universe where electricity plants that run off green unicorn farts can provide our energy needs. Demagogues like Bloomberg do not understand the practicalities of electric generation and distribution. He does not understand his city’s power mix is largely an accident of geology. All he knows is his city only uses about 15% coal, so everyone else should too. The message from Main Street USA should be to tell Mayor Bloomberg to go back to New York City, and stop lecturing the rest of country on topics he knows nothing about, and are none of his damned business anyway.

10 thoughts on “Rejecting the Miracle of Public Power”

  1. “Generation:
    There are now 23 powerplants within the city limits. The four
    in Queens account for roughly half of the energy output in the city and the remainder are spread across Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. But not all of the city’s power is produced within the 5 boroughs. Indian Point, a nucleur (sic) power plant in Westchester County produces up to 20% or our demand.

    What about the rest?
    The New York Power Authority’s Marcy substation in upstate New York transforms hydropower coming from Canada. A transmission line passes through Albany, winds it way toward New York City via the Catskills.”


    “Thousands of megawatts of cheap, clean hydroelectricity from Canada are continuously rushing into the New York Power Authority’s sprawling substation in Marcy, NY-enough juice to light up 40 World Trade Centers. For almost a half-century, the Marcy facility, located just a few miles from the remote Adirondack National Park in upstate New York, has transformed this torrent of electricity from a blistering 765,000 volts to the slightly more manageable 345,000 volts used by the overhead transmission cables that feed power-hungry Manhattan 300 kilometers to the southeast.”

    Source: “A Smarter Power Grid” published July 2001 in “MIT Technology Review” here is a link to the text of the article –

    The Marcy Substation is the Achilles Heel of NYC’s power supply.

    Map of Marcy Substation:

    Lets see what Mayor Bloomberg would do if something catastrophic happened to the Marcy Substation or the power lines going in ot our of it.

  2. Bloomberg has probably decided to short coal producers in his stock portfolio.

  3. This is a good read if you want to understand the energy needs of NYC as well as the Bloomberg’s vision. This report was published in 2004, but considering the Natural Resources Defense Council was one of the members of the polict task force one could see which way Mayor Mike was leaning,

    “New York City Energy Policy: An Electricity Resource Roadmap”

  4. “Farting Unicorns”?

    Sebastien, I take it you are a fan of Karl Denninger? :)

  5. It is a bit inaccurate to say that wind is useless for base loading. Most windfarms are assigned a “Capacity Rating” based on wind studies done in the area. In the really good wind areas of PA, this rating is about 20%. This just means that to throttle your base coal generation back by 1 megawatt, you must build 5 MW of wind generation.

    the Texas numbers seem to bear this out: when it was hot and the wind wasnt blowing, they were producing 15% of total rated output. I doubt anyone at ERCOT was suprised by the lack of wind output the article was talking about.

  6. I do have to wonder what will happen to Mayor Blowhard’s energy mix if Governor Cuomo gets his wish to shut down the Indian Point nuke plant. That’s 2 gigawatts of emissions free power from a plant that is already built and paid for that would have to be replaced somehow. I doubt unicorn farts would make up the difference. But Hydro-Quebec will just LOVE to soak NYC ratepayers to import their power and make up the difference.

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