Most of New York State’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels to create steam that drives a generator’s turbines. Your local power plant is probably at least 100 miles away from your house. By the time the electricity gets to your air-conditioner it is been stepped down three or four times via transfer stations and is approximately 20% less efficient. This equates to a loss of 80% of the electricity that was produced at the power plant is before consumption.
The following is a brief description and percentage of fossil fuels that New York City is burning for our electricity consumption.
Oil is considered a non-renewable resource because it cannot be replenished within the human timeframe. Burning oil at a power plant produces nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and mercury compounds. In addition, the large engines that are used in the oil drilling, production, and transportation processes for natural gas are diesel that also produce emissions.
Oil fired power plants use large quantities of water for steam production and cooling. When oil fired power plants remove water from a lake or river, the ecosystem is disrupted, as is the food chain in which the aquatic life is an important link. During the process of drilling of oil, water is used to remove obstructions from the well and refineries require water in various processes that turn crude oil into usable fuel.
Refineries release treated wastewater, which can contain pollutants, into streams and other bodies of water. Likewise, power plants release wastewater, which contain pollutants and heat into nearby lakes and streams, often harming fish and plants. This discharge usually requires a permit and his monitored.
Drilling can also cause underground water supplies to become contaminated with oil. Surface waters from the extraction process can be polluted. During transportation oil spills could occur damaging water quality and harming marine life in oceans and coastal waterways.
Oil refining produces wastewater sludge and other solid waste that can contain high levels of metals and toxic compounds that may require special handling, treatment, and disposal. When oil is burned out in power plants, unburned residues can accumulate requiring another source of solid waste that must be disposed of properly.
NATURAL GAS 51%
After the natural gas is extracted from the ground wells, it is treated at gas plants to remove impurities such as hydrogen sulfide, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and moisture. Pipelines then transport the natural gas to power plants where burning produces nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide but in lower quantities than burning coal or oil. Methane, a primary component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas, can also be emitted into the air when natural gas is not burned completely. Methane emissions can also result from leaks and losses during transportation. Emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury compounds from burning natural gas are negligible.
The process of extraction, treatment, and transport of natural gas causes additional emissions. However, compared to the average air emissions from coal-fired generation natural gas power plants produce half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one hundredth of the sulfur oxides. The burning of natural gas in combustion turbines require very little water. However, natural gas-fired boilers and combined cycle systems do require water for cooling purposes. Combustion engines do not produce water discharges. However, heat and pollutants build up in the water used in natural gas boilers. When these pollutants and heat reach certain levels, the water is often discharged into lakes or rivers. The use of natural gas to create electricity does not produce substantial amounts of solid waste.
The extraction of natural gas in the construction of natural gas power plants can destroy natural habitat for animals and plants. Possible negative effects to the land are soil erosion, loss of soil productivity, and landslides.
A positive for our environment, New York City does not use coal generated energy. Coal is extracted from underground open cut mines. It is often cleaned or washed at the scene in order to remove impurities before being transported to the power plant using train, barge, or truck. Finally, at the power plant, coal is commonly burned into a boiler to produce steam, which runs through turbines to generate electricity.
When coal is burned, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury compounds are released. Further, coal is stored in piles outside the power plant. The water that runs these piles can release heavy metals from the coal, such as arsenic and lead, into nearby bodies of water. Coal mining can also be contaminated with heavy metals when the water used to clean the coal is discharged back into the environment. Currently there are hundreds of out-of-control fires in coalmines that have been burning for 50 years and more.
Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is almost continuously generating 2000 megawatts of electricity. It will not be easy to match and replace that kind of power. Many experts believe that nuclear energy does not contribute to global warming or air pollution, making it a “more attractive choice” now that the scientific evidence highly supports global warming.
The downside is that it takes huge amounts of fossil fuels to extract, purify, and process the uranium into a usable fuel. This uranium enrichment process generates radioactive waste. Enriched fuel must then be transported to the nuclear power plant. At the power plant, the uranium oxide pellets are bombarded with neutrons, causing the uranium atoms to switch and release heat and neutrons in a chain reaction. The heat is used to generate steam, which is used by turbines to generate electricity. Nuclear power plants also use large quantities of water for steam production and for cooling. When nuclear power is produced the process removes water from the lake or river for steam production and cooling, which in turn can negatively affect aquatic life.
Of great concern and challenge is the disposal of spent radioactive fuel. At present, there is not a safe, effective way to dispose of the wastes. All the nuclear power plants in United States together produce about 2000 metric tons of radioactive waste every year, which is temporarily stored at each facility. The danger and negative consequences of a meltdown are catastrophic. From our point of view, nuclear energy is neither renewable, sustainable and is certainly not a clean energy source for the next millennium.
Hydro-electricity dams provide clean, non-polluting electricity. However, they are detrimental to fish migrations and disrupt river ecosystems. You can also have the same 80% loss of efficiency due to the distance from the damn to the end-user. Hydro-electricity does not seem as dirty as the others, but it is also not as desirable.