New York City's Rikers Solar Plan Makes No Sense

New York City's Rikers Solar Plan Makes No Sense
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

One would think a proposal which threatens the electric grid of the world’s most important city was conceived by a people who…frankly…don’t really like the city. Yet that is exactly what the City Council of New York is considering. And like all things related to the green movement, these Don Quixotes battling climate change never worry about facts as intentions.

The Council is considering foolhardy plan to turn Riker’s Island into a solar farm. Proponents, like Alexandria "12-years left" Ocasio-Cortez, say covering 100 acres of Rikers with solar panels allows for the closing of all fossil fuel “peaker plants” (those facilities which come online during highest demand on the electric grid) built in the past 25 years. Because solar good. Fossil fuels bad. This idea isn’t just wrong; it’s dangerous.

As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez once said “it’s better to be morally right than factually correct”. That must be comforting, because when it comes to energy, the facts are usually against her.

I asked Michael Bastasch, The Daily Caller News Foundation's investigative energy and environmental reporter to run the numbers.  According to Bastasch, the New York City peaker plants can generate up to 9,600 megawatts of electricity when demand spikes.

A 100-acre Rikers Island solar farm will generate 90 megawatts, according to city documents.  How’s the math so far?  It doesn’t seem that 9,600 is the same as 90, regardless of how good you feel.   

Morally right, however.

To be fair, the proposal also calls for 300 megawatts of energy storage capacity.  But Bastasch pointed out that, during the heatwave of 2011, New York City demand topped 11,500 megawatts. Those 300 megawatts would barely even make a dent in peak demand.

Whether it’s polar vortex or heatwaves, neither of which are uncommon in New York City, the residents are dependent on electricity for survival. Heaters. Air conditioners. Water pumped up multiple stories heating and cooling, appliances storing and cooking food. What would happen if all this were offline because of a crashed electric grid? Who will suffer in a blackout? The poor, sick, hospitalized, those in run-down government housing. Green billionaires who support such ideas will be just fine.

New York City estimates that plans to redevelop Riker's Island and build the solar farm cost anywhere from $15 - $22 billion.  Though it's not clear what an 100-acre solar array alone would cost, the total price tag should give city residents pause.

This asks the inconvenient question: how much land would be needed to power New York City with solar panels? Let’s use an example: the solar panels at Topaz Farm in Southern California generated 1.2 million megawatts per year. Impressive number for sure, except New York’s subway system used 1.8 million megawatts each year. Compounding this problem: California gets much more sun than New York, and Topaz Farm is 4,000 acres.

So where does New York get 4,000 acres of land to almost power its subway? As a born and raised Queens kid I can tell you that’s going to be hard. Forest Park is only 165 acres, and we’d have to chop down all the trees. I’m sure some environmental groups would protest that.

We could look at Central Park and its 800 acres, but again, goodbye trees and goodbye reservoir. And let’s face it, Queens: the city would bulldoze your homes before the Upper East Side gives up their views.

What about multiple sources of green power? Let’s add some windmills.

More math and land problems: a 2 megawatts onshore windmill need 1.5 acres of land. We could cover Rikers with 266 windmills and generate 533 megawatt of electricity- more than the proposed solar farm, but still, nothing compared to the 10,000 megawatts regularly needed. Maybe the fine folks along Long Island’s shores from Montauk to West Hampton, those with proud liberal values and progressive sensibilities, would give up their waterfront views.

No more joking.

I am not opposed to renewable energy. The technology offers great promise. But that does not mean we have that technology now nor in the immediate future. And New York needs electricity now. The city’s electric grid is too critical to the economic and personal survival of millions of people for a City Council to tinker with it for political reasons. The council doesn’t have to like fossil fuels. It should, however, like math.

Daniel Turner is the executive director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Follow him on Twitter @DanielTurnerPTF

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