Future fossil: The natural gas-fired Caithness II power plant proposed for Yaphank may be Long Islandâ€™s best renewable-energy hope.
As renewable programs struggle to set a new national energy tone, the Long Island-based subsidiary of a major independent power producer is lauding a new international study calling for greater collaborations between renewable sources and fast-reacting fossil-fueled generation.
The idea, according to a white paper recently released by the Massachusetts-basedÂ National Bureau of Economic Research, is that intermittent and non-dispatchable renewable energy resources like solar and wind aren’t reliable enough to meet growing energy demands by themselves, based on current technologies and energy from good, old-fashioned fossil-fuel sources is needed to plug the power gap during natural drop-offs in solar and wind production.
Renewable and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary, the white paper notes, adding such tech should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply.
The study Bridging the Gap: Do Fast Reacting Fossil Technologies Facilitate Renewable Energy Diffusion? A study was conducted by the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change and theÂ Fondazione Eni Enrico MatteiÂ in Italy, in collaboration with theÂ French Economic ObservatoryÂ (bring yourÂ dictionnaireÂ to the website) and Syracuse University. It considered wind, solar and other renewable-energy plants in 26 countries over 13 years before concluding there are important synergies between renewable generators and natural-gas plants.
That sounds about right toÂ Caithness Long Island II, a subsidiary of New York City-basedÂ Caithness EnergyÂ and the entity behind Caithness II, a 750-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant proposed for Yaphank. The Caithness II project would supplement Caithness Long Island, a 350-megawatt gas-fired generator that in 2009 became the first major baseload power plant to open on Long Island in three decades, and currently provides roughly 10 percent of the Island’s electricity.
Caithness II is also designed specifically to ramp up and down quickly, as dictated by customer demand and fluctuating energy supplies. According to Caithness Energy, the proposed plant can go from producing zero megawatts to 620 MW in just 45 minutes and requires only 32 minutes to go from full load to shutdown.
That’s generations better than slowpoke steam plants in Port Jefferson and Northport, disqualifying those old-school generators as on-demand suppliers. And it’s exactly the kind of rapid-response, fossil-fuel stopgap championed in the NBER white paper, notes Caithness II President Ross Ain, who believes the proposed plant is perfectly suited to support the integration of substantial renewable-generated electricity into the Long Island grid.
What the study concluded is that renewable energy won’t work without adding modern, fast-reacting, natural gas plants to provide power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, Ain said in a statement.
Caithness II remains in a holding pattern while regional lawmakers, utilities and investors continue to review market conditions and gauge future Long Island energy needs but there’s no doubt, Ain added, that this is what the NBER’s researchers had in mind when they penned Bridging the Gap.
Natural gas continues to be an essential bridge fuel that represents the best support in attaining aggressive greenhouse-gas reduction goals, the Caithness II President said. “And gas-fired, combined-cycle plants such as the Caithness II project do so in an economical and environmentally beneficial manner.”