Alfonse D'Amato

On energy, New York’s head is in the sand

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Climate change skeptics are often urged by climate change believers to “follow the science” when it comes to whether our climate is changing. That’s a fair proposition, but it means following all the science, wherever it leads. Convenient untruths should be avoided, too.

Yet in New York state, political considerations have led to contorting energy and environmental policy to fit preordained extreme Green positions. In the process, the state government has metaphorically backed us up to the sea. And since many Long Islanders live along our seashore, how this dilemma is handled is of more than passing importance.

New York has historically benefited from a wide range of energy-production options. We get a about a quarter of our electricity from hydropower, about a third from nuclear power, about 10 percent from renewables like wind and solar, and the remaining more than 30 percent from natural gas. That means that New York is already getting more than 60 percent of its power from carbon-free sources. And natural gas burned here to make electricity has replaced older, less environmentally friendly coal- and oil-fired plants. Added to this is the fact that New Yorkers are among the most efficient power consumers in the U.S.

Nationwide, the shift from coal and oil to cleaner natural gas has led the U.S. to make some of the biggest reductions in carbon emissions. In fact, America has made more progress in complying with international climate agreements than other large industrial nations. And New York has been a leader in this cleaner-energy progress.

So we should be pleased with the achievements we’re making on the energy front, right? Not according to the enviro-extremists. To them, only renewables like wind and solar are acceptable. Nuclear power, which also generates zero carbon emissions, is anathema. That’s the essence of their fixation on a Green New Deal, which would wrench the U.S. from rational, achievable improvements in our energy and environment policies to a radical, untenable energy future.

In New York, that has caused a zigzag response from our leaders, who would unplug the Indian Point nuclear plant in 2020-21 and thereby create a big gap in New York’s clean-electric-generating capacity. To fill that gap and keep the lights on in New York City, which depends heavily on Indian Point electrical power, the state would have to quickly authorize and build — you guessed it — more natural-gas-burning power plants along the Hudson River.

But how do we do that when the enviro-extremists also oppose any expansion of natural-gas production or transport in New York? They have halted any new gas exploration here, and they strenuously oppose most new or expanded gas pipelines, leaving some parts of the state dangerously unable to access critically needed new natural gas connections.

Which leads us to the South Shore of Long Island. To fill the giant energy hole they will dig by closing Indian Point and thwarting any natural gas-based energy production, the enviros have turned their gaze to the sea. They have embraced a massive new wind turbine farm proposed to be built along the New York Bight, a strip of shallow ocean shelf 15 to 20 miles offshore. The project would string 60 to 80 wind turbines towering 1,000 feet — as tall as the Chrysler Building — along a wide stretch of the bight. Its higher-cost power would be heavily supported by big federal subsidies.

Inconveniently for the enviros, this project is not without its own environmental challenges. New York’s commercial fishermen have raised a number of credible concerns about the impact these wind towers’ huge undersea foundations would have on area fishing grounds. Military radar could also be adversely affected. And then there’s the visual impact of these behemoths on the skyline.

How to break this impasse? Here’s what a reasonable compromise would look like:

• Close Indian Point and quickly replace it with natural gas plants, but also open gas exploration and production in New York to help meet demand. And rapidly expand and build pipelines to carry the gas.

• Maintain and expand the remaining upstate nuclear power-generating capacity to continue production of its clean electric power.

• Build critically needed transmissions lines to move the upstate power downstate.

• Only after carefully considering relevant environmental issues — especially the effects on fishing grounds — proceed, if necessary, with the offshore wind project.

Our leaders can do these things if their heads aren’t buried in the sand.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.