New York State owes a lot to its waterways. The Hudson and East rivers connect the goods and services of Upstate to Manhattan and Long Island Sound. Lake Ontario and Lake Erie offer inland transportation options. The Finger Lakes and numerous smaller lakes and rivers provide fishing, recreation, and scenic benefits for the state’s inhabitants. Niagara Falls, of course, brings in an ongoing, massive wave of tourists from across the globe every year.
Niagara Falls also provides another important service to the state of New York, though this is probably less noticed by tourists. The waterfall’s flow drives turbines, operating The Robert Moses Hydroelectric Power Plant and its 13 generators, creating as much as 2,525MW of power for the state. This type of generation is called Hydroelectric Power. In fact, New York is the fourth largest hydroelectric producer in the United States, with about 17% of the state’s energy coming from hydropower stations such as Niagara Falls, St. Lawrence River and many more.
Hydropower Does the Heavy Lifting for New York Renewables
If you’re talking about renewable energy in New York, you’re talking about hydropower. Currently, nearly 90% of New York’s renewable energy is produced by hydroelectric plants, thanks to New York’s numerous waterways, geological suitability, and rich history of generating power with watermills. Wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy are all currently produced in New York as well, but none are near the scale of hydropower.
Why? Because hydropower is more economical than most other forms of renewable energy. The installation methods have long been developed and the plants themselves don’t require the special materials or manufacturing techniques necessary for wind or solar. Once installed, a plant costs little to run. The “fuel”—which is water—is free, and continuously available. While necessary maintenance costs do add to the price, the cost is pretty comparable to other methods of electricity generation.
Advantages of Hydropower Over Other Energy Sources
Hydropower has advantages over other forms of renewable energy as well. The most important is its dependability. The greatest limitation on wind and solar energy is the irregular pattern of their fuel—wind and sunlight. Hydropower generally does not suffer from this downfall. Many plants are installed in dams that have created reservoirs behind them, effectively storing enormous amounts of potential energy in liquid form. To meet demand, water is released from the reservoir, driving turbines to create energy in the amount required. While some systems can then pump water back upstream to store again, most simply rely on the evaporation cycle to transport more water upstream.
Hydropower also boasts advantages over coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Coal, gas, and nuclear all require destructive extraction techniques. Coal mines often blow the tops off mountains to get at the coal beneath. The recent natural gas boom is powered by the fracking technique, which involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and undisclosed chemicals miles underground to horizontally shatter entire beds of shale rock and thereby extract the gas within. Uranium requires multiple enrichment stages, and produces dangerous waste. This is all in contrast to water, which falls from the sky naturally. Hydropower is also far less dangerous to operate than nuclear plants, which carry the inherent risk of meltdown and radioactive disaster. Finally, unlike coal or natural gas, hydropower is pollution-free and non-destructive.
Capacity is the Achilles Heel of Hydropower
However, the fossil fuel family does have one advantage over hydropower: capacity. While hydropower in New York produces an enormous percentage of the state’s energy mix as a renewable source, it is dwarfed by the total energy output of non-renewable sources.
In a similar way, other renewable sources also have an advantage over hydropower: expansion potential. As of 2011, around 345 conventional hydropower plants were operating in New York. Niagara is already in use; the St. Lawrence River is already in use. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the most cost-effective means of bringing more hydroelectricity online in New York is by upgrading existing facilities, not building new ones. Most of the truly serviceable waterways are already in use. While there is experimentation with tidally-powered energy sources using similar technologies to hydroelectric, these have yet to be brought online on a commercial scale.
In contrast, wind and solar energy in New York only have room to grow. There are plenty more areas left in the state where the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. While these energy sources currently only generate a minuscule percentage of the state’s energy mix, this percentage will grow as more renewable energy comes online, fossil and nuclear plants decline, and hydropower remains more or less constant.
Renewable Energy Credits Help Homeowners Invest in Renewable Energy
While hydropower may not be the undisputed energy of the future, it is certainly the renewable energy of the past and present in New York. As such, it requires ongoing maintenance and upgrades to maintain safety and efficiency. But New Yorkers looking to support the ongoing use and continued development of hydropower are limited in their means of doing so. Unless you have a good-sized river running through your backyard, it’s unlikely that you can use hydropower on a personal scale. Also, once energy has been generated by power plants and sent off into the ground, it is indistinguishable by source. That means the energy consumer is unable to use only hydropower-produced electricity, or only wind-produced energy.
However, third party energy suppliers and other energy companies have found a way to reliably simulate the purchase of renewable energy by selling green products. Regardless of the actual source of the energy used to power your refrigerator, by purchasing RECs you are purchasing an equivalent amount of energy produced by a renewable source. So, New Yorkers looking to invest in the development of renewable energy sources like hydropower have a way to do so.
Liberty Power is a third party energy supplier operating in New York. We’re happy to offer Renewable Energy Credits to New York homeowners and commercial energy users. By purchasing RECs from Liberty Power, you’re ensuring that your home or business is powered by sustainable energy, like hydropower. To learn more, contact Liberty Power today.