Pin It
Electricity Grid

Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill argued again Monday that a local push to rely on solely on electricity-powered home heating is unwise, especially in light of an unreliable electric grid.  He cited many recent power outages in the Town and Village of Lansing, saying that lifting New York State Electric & Gas's (NYSEG) natural gas moratorium would provide an alternate source of power, at least until electricity delivery becomes more stable.  Hartill was among local officials who met with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Clean Heating and Cooling Group Program Manager Scott Smith and Lansing Outreach Coordinator Lisa Marshall, Monday about challenges to converting Lansing residents from oil and gas heat to electric powered heat pumps.

"Our discussion today was how we get from here to there given the circumstances that we operate under, namely a great enthusiasm for various sorts of heat pumps and things like that," Hartill said at a Village Trustees meeting Monday.  "Great enthusiasm for doing the right thing.  But I would characterize it as not any real understanding the path forward, of how we get from here to there.  In particular anything that gets to be quasi-carbon-neutral has to face up to the fact that our electricity in New York State, 35% comes from non-carbon sources.  20% is water power.  15% is nukes."

Hartill and Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne say they have heard nothing back from the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) or NYSEG since they met with them in Albany in June.  But Hartill and Deputy Mayor Ronny Hardaway agreed that Smith was listening to their concerns Monday.

"The NYSERDA guy was paying attention," Hartill said. "He did take what we were saying seriously.  So we had a little bit of exchange about that."

NYSERDA's Scott Smith says that in light of the natural gas moratorium Lansing is a test to see if

"We see the gas moratorium as an important opportunity for us to demonstrate what a fossil fuel-free future can look like and to make sure that economy doesn't slow in the case of Westchester County, and in the case of Lansing can be reinvigorated using electrification for heat pump technologies," he said at a HeatSmart event Sunday.

While Hartill and others who are pushing back on relying on electrically powered heating alternatives all say that should be the ultimate goal.  But they say there are two stumbling blocks aside from price.  The first is battery storage for electricity generated by solar and wind sources.  That technology is in its very early stages, and is currently expensive and short-lived relative to the life spans of solar panels, wind mills and heat pumps.  But the main stumbling block is the ability of the electric grid to deliver electricity reliably.

The Lansings, and the Town of Lansing in particular, have suffered frequent power outages this year that have claimed countless electronic devices, computers, and a $20,000 HVAC unit at the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport as victims of resulting power surges.  Hartill, Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne, and Lansing's representative to the County Legislature Mike Sigler have all lobbied for either lifting the gas moratorium or providing cheaper electricity to the areas of Lansing impacted by the moratorium, to create what they call 'energy equity' with all the other communities in Tompkins County that do have access to new natural gas capacity.

New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the organization that manages New York's power grid, says they have reliably delivered electricity through the grid, but acknowledges it still has work to do.  According to a 2019 NYISO report just under 90% of upstate New York's electricity comes from zero-emissions sources.  about 9% comes from fossil fuels.  That is in stark contrast to downstate, which gets 70% of its power from fossil fuels and 29% from zero-emissions sources (the same as last year).

The report says, "Billions have been saved in reduced fuel costs, and New York’s power sector has reduced the emissions rates of carbon dioxide by 52%, nitrogen oxide by 88%, and sulfur dioxide by 99%."

But last month a PSC report noted that grid reliability in our region is below projected targets, which has cost public companies like NYSEG millions in allowable revenue.  NYSEG was one of two utilities that missed targets on two metrics: the System Average Interruption Frequency Index and the Customer Average Interruption Duration Index.  NYSEG met its targets in 2018, so the negative revenue impact is new this year.  NYSEG shareholders will reportedly experience a negative revenue adjustment of $3.5 million. 

The PSC report says, "Excluding major storms, the electric system statewide interruption frequency is consistent with the statewide five-year average. Roughly one in three outages were due to contacts between trees and power lines, largely from limbs and trees from outside the clearance zone falling due to failure, disease, or weather conditions. Given the significant weather events that have already occurred in 2018, including the winter storms in early March and the high-wind event on May 15, Department staff expects the customer outages including major storms will be higher in next year’s report."

"It really comes down to our electrical grid, which is actually very fragile," Hartill said."We've had a number of outages in the Town due to transformers blowing up, trees falling across power lines.  A bit up the street from my house one of the connectors that was connecting one of the lines failed.  So this 13 kilovolt wire was swishing around on the road until they shut the power off."

At the end of May Albany made $5 million available for electric grid modernization projects that will integrate renewable energy resources such as solar farms that are being considered in the Town of Lansing's proposed Solar and Wind law.  The money is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Green New Deal initiative for New York State to reach 70% renewable energy by 2030.  Funding for the projects comes from the NYSERDA’s Smart Grid and Distributed Energy Resource Integration Program for entrepreneurs, renewable energy companies, and researchers that have solutions for connecting and integrating renewable resources faster and more effectively.

But Cuomo also increased renewable energy targets: the offshore wind target quadrupled to 9,000 megawatts by 2035, distributed solar deployment doubled to 6,000 megawatts by 2025, and the energy storage deployment target is set for 3,000 megawatts by 2030.

Critics of the Cuomo administration charge that the Governor is demanding better performance of the grid while legislating green energy targets that will make the grid less reliable, and make conventional sources of electricity more expensive to produce. They cite intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind farms that rely on favorable weather and daylight to produce energy, but go offline when there is no wind or sun, saying that cranking up conventional plants when you can't predict when alternative sources are going to be available also cranks up costs.  And rising electricity costs already present challenges to proponents of heat pumps.

"I thought it was ironic today," said Village Trustee Randy Smith. "Once you push residents to get rid of gas and go to heat pumps.  At the same time they want to do a 25% electric rate increase, and maybe a 7% increase for gas.  When it comes down to it people are going to vote with their pocket, so how are you going to sell this?  Well, it's long term.  That's not how they're going to look at it. If your furnace breaks tomorrow and gas is X and electricity is X, what are you going to do?  A heat pump or just get another gas furnace?"

Hardaway said Lansing residents should be told about heat pump incentives that favor Lansingites,  He added that he is encouraged by NYSERDA and HeatSmart representatives' concern about attracting business to Lansing in the wake of the natural gas moratorium.  He noted that more money is available for the Lansings and Westchester County, the two New York communities that are suffering natural gas moratoriums right now, and that presents a particular opportunity for Lansing because it is smaller than Westchester County, so more money is available here.

"A business might not think that they could move here because of the gas moratorium, but with some proper navigation it's very possible that they could move here," Hardaway said. "They're not just looking at large businesses, but also small businesses that probably would have a much better chance of benefiting from heat pumps.  So I found it was a pretty positive approach and they did seem to listen."

But even proponents of a fast transition from natural gas, propane, and oil heating are concerned about grid reliability.

"My concern is that at the state-wide level we need to get the grid up to snuff," Hardaway said. "It's not even close.  If NYSEG does it they're going to raise rates so that they can improve the grid that they should have been improving all the time.  Hopefully the State will pony up some money to help do that.  It's just money coming out of the different pockets.  Everybody is chipping in that way, not just NYSEG customers."

Local HeatSmart officials acknowledge challenges, but say that in most cases converting to heat pumps, which both heat and cool homes saves money in the long run, while reducing the use of fossil fuels.  Tompkins County's HeatSmart initiative was the first in the State, and NYSERDA's Smith says that it has spawned 15 HeatSmart programs all over New York, and predicts such programs will spread to nearly every community in the state.

"If you look forward to the future envisioned by the Climate  Leadership And Community Action Act that we just passed, most, if not all buildings in New York State will have a heat pump by 2050," he said. "We've got to start the process of converting them now, because thirty years may sound like a long time, but it's really not."

Pin It