The last coal-fired power plant in New York is closing and its power will be replaced by renewable energy—wind and solar power that works when the weather permits. The 675-megawatt, 36-year-old Somerset coal plant is retiring due to stricter state emissions regulations and poor economics. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state regulators enacted rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which are designed to end coal generation in the state by year-end 2020. Shuttering the plant is also supposed to help the state reach its goal of 100 percent carbon-free power generation by 2040. To help implement its ambitious goals, Governor Cuomo recently issued rules that would make it easier to obtain permission to build renewable energy, including wind turbines and solar panels, allowing applicants to bypass zoning rules and other local regulations.
Across the country, coal plants are being shuttered, due to lower cost natural gas and regulations and incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to generate power from renewable energy sources. The closures result in lost tax revenues and jobs, and the need to retrain workers. In the NY town with the Somerset plant about an hour outside of Buffalo, the plant’s payments to the state in lieu of taxes had allowed the school district to run a surplus for years. Now, the school district will need to use its savings to keep its budget in the black.
Further, residents are not sure whether solar-panel farms and wind turbines should be the landmarks of their backyards. People who rent land to energy companies and receive a regular payment for the solar panels or wind turbines on their property are generally happy with the blight from those technologies, but those not receiving a check generally prefer a more picturesque landscape. To replace the NY coal plant with what New York believes is “carbon-free power” would require about twice the plant’s capacity if wind power is the replacement technology and over 3 times its capacity if solar power is the replacement technology due to their lower capacity factors. That means more land is needed and a much greater impact on the NY landscape.
And, NY’s goal comes at a considerable cost to taxpayers. For the first 10 years of production, wind energy producers get paid a federal production tax credit, which was originally worth $23 for each megawatt-hour produced. In some markets, that subsidy exceeded the wholesale price of electricity and forced out of the market reliable and resilient power sources, such as coal, nuclear and natural gas. These baseload plants become less efficient and less economic when intermittent sources are forced into the system by financial incentives and mandates. When subsidies, grants, and tax credits given by states are added to the federal subsidies, wind turbines can sometimes be installed and operated at nearly no cost. Warren Buffett, whose companies build and operate wind farms, said, “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the reason we build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.” Solar power also has federal and state subsidies and mandates that encourage its use.
It is these federal tax credits, the Production Tax Credit for wind and the Investment Tax Credit for solar, that the Democrats want extended in the coronavirus stimulus bill. Both tax credits are being phased out. Despite the wind and solar industries saying that they are competitive without the tax credit, they are fighting for the tax extensions. That means U.S. taxpayers can help pay for these intermittent technologies that are being built in states that have goals similar to that of New York for what they consider to be “carbon-free” power, which is an anomaly.
When wind and solar power plants are decommissioned, they generate millions of tons of waste. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that the disposal of obsolete solar panels will more than double the tonnage of the world’s plastic waste. Both wind and solar require far more material and land than fossil fuels. One wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2500 tons of concrete, and 45 tons of plastic and resins that cannot be recycled. Wind turbine blades, for instance, cannot be recycled after their 20-year life and are dumped in landfills. Because the blades are 120 feet long, they must be crushed or cut into pieces.
In a 100-turbine wind farm, there are 500 million pounds of concrete. Building enough wind turbines to supply one-half the world’s electricity needs would require nearly two billion tons of coal to make the concrete and steel, and two billion barrels of oil to make the composite blades. Thus, the world would be consuming immense amounts of hydrocarbons to avoid consuming those hydrocarbons to generate power directly. The new, intermittent power requires backup sources that are increasingly operated inefficiently and uneconomically because of “ramping” up and down to accommodate the intermittent sources.
Solar farms require the mining of silver and indium. The demand for rare earth minerals required for the manufacture of solar panels is expected to increase 300 percent to 1000 percent by 2050 to meet the goals of the Paris Accord. The United States does not mine its own rare earth minerals due to onerous regulations and instead must import them. China provides over 70 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth minerals, which would make us dependent again on another area of the world.
The irony is that a solar or wind farm that stretches as far as the eye can see can be replaced by several gas-fired turbines, each about the size of a tractor-trailer.
New York’s belief that solar and wind power are “clean and renewable” is false. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are readily accessible right here in America, affordable, and have much smaller environmental footprints than the renewable energy that environmentalists and many states are promoting.