Several blue states are deploying a bold new strategy to keep their electricity grids solvent as they push forward with reckless requirements to meet their electricity needs with unreliable wind and solar generation: Incentivize people to flee their states.
The poster child for this innovative policy approach is New York. U.S. Census Bureau data show the state lost nearly 300,000 residents in 2022. And they took their pesky penchant for using electricity with them.
New York has recently enacted a bevy of ill-advised energy policies that require the Empire State to derive 70% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 — up from just 29% today, ban new natural gas stoves and furnaces in newly constructed buildings by 2026 and shut down six crucial oil and natural gas peaking plants in New York City by 2030.
These policies will cause electricity demand to skyrocket while reducing the supply of power available because they will shut down the state’s natural gas power plant fleet. These plants are currently the largest sources of electricity in the state, providing New Yorkers with 45% of their electricity in 2021. Surging demand and dwindling electricity supplies will soon make rolling blackouts a real possibility.
The most important things to know about the electric grid are that the supply of electricity must be in perfect balance with demand at every second of every day, and electricity is consumed at the exact second it is generated. Think of what happens when you unplug a lamp; the light immediately goes out.
Keeping the lights on is a delicate balancing act. If demand rises as New Yorkers turn on their air conditioners or electric heaters, an electric company must instantaneously increase the supply of power to meet that demand.
Generating more electricity is relatively easy with dispatchable power plants — plants that can be turned up or down on command — like those fueled with coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel. But adjusting to second-by-second fluctuations in electricity demand is much more difficult with wind and solar, whose electricity production is dependent on second-by-second fluctuations in the weather.
New York’s energy policies mean it will become increasingly difficult to provide reliable power as the state becomes more reliant upon intermittent wind and solar to meet its energy needs. As a result, companies will seek to reduce demand rather than increase supply to keep the grid balanced.
During times of limited power supplies, grid operators will ask customers to voluntarily reduce their consumption, a practice called “demand response” in the utility world. If these voluntary efforts are insufficient, grid operators will be forced to initiate rolling blackouts to keep the grid from crashing.
This is where the wisdom of New York’s high tax, high crime, and onerous COVID-19 policies shine through. By incentivizing nearly 300,000 residents to flee the state last year, New York lawmakers permanently reduced the state’s electricity demand by nearly 900,000-megawatt hours, by this author’s estimates, which was 1.7% of New York’s 2021 residential electricity consumption.
A continued diaspora of New Yorkers to freer pastures may help grid operators manage the upcoming challenge of meeting electricity demand with an increasingly unreliable supply.
However, a better solution to this problem would be to reverse course on these deeply misguided energy mandates and get serious about building new nuclear power plants. Absent this course correction, the last person to leave may not need to turn out the lights.
Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota-based think tank.
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