Is CVE “clean burning” as it asserts?
No, only compared to an existing electricity-generating plant that burns coal or fuel oil and operates much like such plants did in the 19th century. But a better comparison is to a renewable energy plant, which burns no fuel at all—it makes power from sunlight or wind—and emits no greenhouse gases or pollutants of any kind. Now that’s clean.
Will CVE add or subtract from the current total of greenhouse emissions when it’s running?
CVE will add, but the answer is tricky. It depends on which energy you think CVE will replace. CVE says it is replacing electricity from plants that use coal or fuel oil. If these are not “combined cycle” (see below) and they usually aren’t, it will produce nearly twice the energy for the same pollution, so it would subtract from the total of greenhouse gases New York and the United States produce. But if it replaces energy from a nuclear power plant such as Indian Point, which will shut down in 2021, it will add to total greenhouse-gas emissions because a nuclear reactor does not make or expel any greenhouse gases.
It’s also important to distinguish between “clean” and environmentally friendly. If you’ve ever seen a coal fired power plant, you can tell it’s polluting. Clouds of black smoke billow from the stacks and everything in the area is covered by fine black ash. Gas fired plants on the other hand benefit from “if you can’t see it, it can’t hurt you”. The exhaust from CVE looks like harmless water vapor, but it’s loaded with harmful compounds like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). CVE’s technology is so efficient that the sooty particles it emits are literally invisible, which makes them much more dangerous as the human body is unable to filter them from the air. In terms of climate change, current science indicates that methane as the major component of natural gas is even more harmful compared to coal.
CVE says it is much more energy efficient than other electricity plants. Is that accurate?
More efficient than a legacy coal plant, yes. Or a simple electric generator run by a gas-powered engine. CVE’s technology is called combined-cycle power generation because its gas turbine spins an electric generator, then the heat exhaust from the turbine makes steam in a boiler, and that steam spins another turbine and generator. In traditional power plants, the steam is used once then vented instead of being rerouted and used again. But even a combined-cycle plant still loses heat energy equal to 30 to 40 percent of the fuel’s energy, and it discharges a whole range of dangerous pollutants into the air.
An interesting side effect of CVE’s more efficient design is that its exhaust gases are much cooler then those emitted by older power plants. As a result the exhaust fumes will tend to sink quickly to ground level, concentrating pollution in the towns surrounding the plant.
What is CVE, really?
CVE is basically a money-making venture—a product—created by an energy hedge fund called Advanced Power AG based in Switzerland. Advanced Power has already put together ten or so similar power-generation deals, most of them in Europe but also two in Ohio. It’s the middle man between major players in finance such as international banks, hedge funds, and utilities, and the manufacturers of power plants and equipment, including GE, often by way of a construction management resource such as Bechtel. Advanced Power doesn’t use much of its own money. And usually, it sells its ownership stake not long after a plant starts producing electricity. It recently sold two stakes in its new South Field, Ohio plant before it even starts up in mid-2021—10 percent to Chugoku, a big Japanese electric utility, and 15 percent to JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy.
In other words, if you’re looking for a central office to call when something goes wrong or you want the plant to donate to your school soccer team, you’ll find no there there.
Incidentally, Advanced Power sees the writing on the wall. Just in June 2018 it hired Chad McConathy to develop a solar and energy storage (i.e. battery) business in North America. Dear Chad: May we direct your attention to a great site in Dover, New York? It’s about to be wisely abandoned by an almost finished natural-gas electricity plant.
Governor Cuomo and a new NY State law say the state has to be carbon neutral by 2050, and nearly so by 2040. Doesn’t that mean CVE will have to shut down by 2040?
The simple answer is “yes”. Cricket Valley Energy about as carbon neutral as a forest fire. There is a lot of money invested in CVE however, and the plant’s owners will certainly fight to keep their investment profitable for as long as possible. In fact CVE’s lawyers recently announced their intention to fight NYS plans to add additional transmission capacity which would bring clean wind and hydro power from upstate to energy-hungry New York City. Allowing CVE to remain in operation for 20 years is the wrong way to produce energy for New York residents, particularly when the cost of zero emission technology is competitive to or lower than fossil fuels.
Will CVEC have an adverse impact on air quality and health?
Despite what CVE says on its website — literally, “No”— air quality will, by definition, worsen, and the contaminants the plant spews into the air through its three giant smoke stacks cannot possibly be, by any scientific measure, “protective of the health of the most sensitive members of the public, including children, the elderly, and those with respiratory illnesses such as chronic asthma and emphysema.”
What pours out of those stacks will be pollution, plain and simple, whether it’s visible (products of incomplete combustion) or not: the colorless greenhouse gases CO2, CH4, CO, and SO2, and others. CVE even has the nerve to argue that “the project’s air emissions do not include any unique contaminants not already present in ambient air.” This is a cynical exercise in pure spin, based on the assumption that readers are too naïve or uninformed to understand that adding more pollution to a polluted environment will be all that much worse for human health.
I know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but what are “CO2 equivalents”?
Carbon dioxide is the most commonly discussed greenhouse gas, but many other gasses also trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. One such gas, methane, also known as Natural Gas, is an extremely destructive greenhouse gas. According to the NY Times, methane traps 86 times more heat in the earth’s atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide (CO2) over 20 years. Natural gas pipelines leak methane. Current methane leakage rates are conservatively estimated to be 2.3%. Leaked methane, combined with the millions of tons per year of CO2 and the hundreds of tons of nitrogen oxides that are produced during normal plant operations will be one of New York State’s major contributions to global climate change.
Where does Cricket Valley Energy get its fuel?
CVE receives its supply of fracked natural gas via the Iroquois Pipeline. The pipeline brings gas from Canada via a route that passes close to Utica, Schenectady/Albany, Catskill and Poughkeepsie. It then makes a sharp Eastward turn towards Dover and continues into Connecticut. The Iroquois pipeline interconnects with the Dominion pipeline in Canojoharie, where the Dominion injects Marcellus shale fracked gas from Pennsylvania. Seven compressor stations push the gas through the pipeline, and each is a potential source of methane leakage.
The YouAreHere map project visualizes these pipelines and interconnections as well as others in the North East US.