Green Wheels

A widespread sentiment. (Jim Motavalli photo / June 26, 2013)

CROTON-ON-HUDSON - I love the Clearwater Festival, an annual celebration of the glorious Hudson River. The river is as clean as it is (nobody's perfect) because Pete Seeger got it in his head back in 1966 to do something about the pollution, and created the Clearwater sloop to publicize his cause. The festival grew organically from there.

Clearwater is a bit of a traffic jam, so I had plenty of time to look at all the anti-fracking and anti-Indian Point bumper stickers on the immobile cars ahead of me. Performers get points for anti-fracking songs in their sets. Emotions are running high in New York as Governor Cuomo debates allowing fracking in the state, but I saw some curious assumptions.

I'm no fan of either fracking or the Indian Point nuclear plant, but let me play devil's advocate a bit here. According to Riverkeeper, Indian Point's 2,000 megawatts of capacity (about 30 percent of the power for New York City and Westchester County) would be easy to replace. The group cites a report that finds, among other things, 600 megawatts of renewable energy capacity (and 6,000 megawatts of renewables in process) and a whopping 8,000 megawatts from new transmission lines "to bring power to New York City from upstate New York and other regions."

First, let's state upfront that renewable energy is intermittent, available when the wind blows and the sun shines. You can't just turn off Indian Point and turn on sources that aren't always there — the lights would go off. That means huge battery backup systems of the type we haven't actually developed (or found a way to pay for) yet.

Second, aren't some of those new transmission lines going to bring in power from fracked natural gas? Note that it says "from upstate New York and other regions." They're fracking plenty in Pennsylvania, where some of that power would undoubtedly originate. The report also points to 1,000 megawatts of efficiencies at existing natural gas plants in New York, but again we're talking about at least some fracked power.

It would be great to have it both ways. But in reality it's really challenging to make that work, and that's why the Indian Point opponents are saying, "See, we have plenty of [fracked] power available," and the anti-fracking folks are saying, "We don't need the energy [in part because we have Indian Point]."

Both nuclear power and fracking produce a lot of energy. Renewables are getting there. I was thrilled to read in an email today that a Danish concern is going to provide $200 million to finish the Cape Wind farm in Massachusetts. Hallelulah, but it's the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., and it was an epic battle with NIMBY opponents to get it approved.

Argue with me all you want; I welcome a good debate.