Governor Hochul has just announced approval for the state’s largest to-date solar facility, the 500-megawatt, 3,000 acre, Cider Solar Farm in Genesee County. Supposedly it will power up to 125,000 homes. But the numbers don’t add up.
The average New York home uses about 7,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, so the number of homes an energy facility can power can be determined by figuring out how many kWh it produces annually
A 500-megawatt power plant that ran at about 90 percent capacity, like a nuclear or natural gas plant, would produce 3.9 billion kWh annually.
Dividing 3.9 billion by 7,000 gives us just over 563,000 homes.
125,000 homes is only 22 percent as many. But it gets worse, because even that low number is an overly optimistic estimate.
In New York, solar power produces only about 12.6 percent of its theoretical capacity. That means we can expect this 500-megawatt facility to produce only 552 million kWh, annually. That’s enough power for just under 79,000 homes, 37 percent less than advertised.
Moreover, that’s only 14 percent as many homes as a more reliable source of electricity could power.
Sure, when the sun is shining, Cider Solar may power more homes. But on very cloudy days it will power even fewer homes than calculated here.
Cider Solar isn’t unique in that respect. The state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) as a whole is based on dubious assumptions and questionable math.
But with the CLCPA, New York has committed itself to ever-increasing reliance on undependable energy sources. If we are to manage the growing risk of having too-little energy to supply our needs, we will need to keep reliable sources of electricity online. That means, in addition to the state’s hydropower, we have to hold on to our nuclear and natural gas plants as well.
This may not be politically popular, but it’s the only way the numbers add up.