New York’s ISO1 has a new person at the helm, Steve Whitley, whose long career spans decades in energy and electric generation. There is no question Whitley knows the energy market, what it means to plan for and deliver reliable electricity, and the factors which impact cost and dependability of the system.
Whitley enters the NY region at a time when the State boasts 706.8 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity and nearly 500 massive wind turbines spanning the northern, central, and western regions of the State. An additional 590 megawatts of wind energy is under construction with over 8000 megawatts in the queue waiting for the opportunity to proceed. Wind energy development is widely celebrated by New York’s regulators and political leaders as an economic driver in the State that promises jobs and billions in investment to otherwise depressed areas. This is in spite of enormous vocal opposition to the projects expressed in communities across the State.
NY Studies have clearly shown that onshore winds tend to blow more at night when electric demand is at its lowest. Due to transmission constraints, operators of massive wind facilities have to choose between shutting down or paying fees to the grid operator for the privilege of continuing to pump energy onto the lines (as reported earlier this summer by Matthew Wald in the New York Times). Without viable technologies able to store large quantities of energy, the wind resource in New York is poorly utilized.
It is up to Mr. Whitley, in part, to resolve these issues and ensure New York ratepayers continue to receive reliable, cost-effective service. And he is one of few with the knowledge and experience to offer New York regulators and political leaders straight talk on the topic.
Yet, in a recent interview, Mr. Whitley fervently expressed his enthusiasm for wind power and advocated at least two solutions that he hopes will address the existing limitations of wind:
1) Plug-in hybrid cars: By rigorously promoting the use of plug-in hybrid cars, Whitley sees an opportunity for consumers to use the energy generated during periods of low demand to charge cars overnight. In other words, the solution is to have wind generation (and production) match electric car storage capacity in New York. This idea may look good on paper, and perhaps even appear economically feasible when oil was trading at $150/bbl, but how many New Yorkers are prepared to ditch their current transportation and pay $8000 to $20,000 more for a plug-in car they don't really need? And are thousands of wind turbines canvassing New York's landscape the best way to fuel cars?
2) Hydro Quebec connection: Whitley’s other grand scheme is equally difficult to swallow. Here, he envisions an extensive array of transmission lines moving wind energy from New York -to- Canada, for storage (e.g. in hydro-pump-storage), and expanding the Canada to NY transmission for re-importation. Thus, New York will sell wind energy to Hydro Quebec for next to nothing, to store the night-generated energy, and then buy it back at a much higher price when needed in the form of hydroelectric power.
It’s difficult for us to imagine Whitley, whose career spans decades in the energy business, being cowed into embracing such speculative fantasies. The solutions he’s offering New Yorkers appear more political than honest. It’s time for our political leaders and regulators to look to experienced energy experts like Whitley who can tell them the truth about our energy choices. Unfortunately, it seems Whitley opted for political expediency rather than using his position to educate others on the realities of his “solutions”. Windaction.org, who has tremendous respect for Mr. Whitley, can only hope that he balances his ardor for wind with cold facts when the media spotlight is not in the room.
1The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) is the entity responsible for overseeing the state’s electrical grid and wholesale electricity market.