East Coast Cap & Trade Program Raises Millions for NYS, Clean Energy

As climate talks continue in Paris, New York and eight other mid-Atlantic states earned over $115 million this week from the sale of carbon allowances- $7 million more than projected. This week’s carbon auction, the third of four such auctions this fiscal year, was organized by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a “wildly successful” nine-state carbon trading program.

New York State’s share of the proceeds from the auction was $44.3 million. The funds will go toward energy efficiency and clean energy programs.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, is designed to both cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions emitted by participating states. Since the program’s inception, thirty RGGI auctions have collectively delivered $895 million for clean power, energy efficiency, technology innovation and green workforce development projects across New York. Projects have been initiated in every county, say advocates.

 Paying to Emit Carbon Pollution

RGGI includes New York State, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is the “first mandatory, market-based CO2 emissions reduction program in the United States.”

New Jersey was a participant in RGGI but Governor Chris Christie pulled the state out of the program in 2011.

Power plants in RGGI states must pay to emit carbon pollution. They participate in “auctions” in which they purchase “carbon allowances.” The price for these allowances is guided by a cap on how much carbon all RGGI states can collectively emit.

The idea is to keep lowering the cap in order to raise the allowance price- thus incentivizing power plants to switch to less polluting sources of energy. RGGI’s price on carbon allowances (currently $7.50 per allowance) has increased 256 percent in two years.

RGGI has implemented a new carbon emissions cap of 91 million short tons for participating states. That cap is supposed to decline 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020.

Does RGGI Work?

Supporters say RGGI is a national model for reducing carbon emissions and accelerating the use of renewable sources of energy.

Climate pollutant emissions from power plants across the region have dropped by more than 40 percent since RGGI was initiated in 2005, a coalition of 26 environmental and clean energy groups wrote in a February 10th letter to Governor Cuomo.

The program has raised almost $2 billion from auction proceeds across the nine participating states since 2008. RGGI has “defied critics by proving that reducing climate-altering pollution in a way that raises funds for clean energy is a true win-win,” says Albany watchdog group Environmental Advocates.

New York, as the largest state in the coalition, and the one with the most pollution emitted, received a little more than one-third of all RGGI proceeds in 2014. The funds are managed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

RGGI’s success has proved dangerous. In this year’s state budget, Governor Cuomo reportedly “raided” as much as $41 million (more than one-fourth of 2014’s proceeds) from RGGI, despite significant opposition. Twenty-three million of what was taken this year was to go directly to the state’s general fund to help offset “various energy related tax credits.”

Buildings = Carbon Pollution

A major portion of RGGI funds have been directed toward making the state’s residential building stock more energy efficient. New York’s buildings -residential, commercial and industrial- are the state’s second leading emitter of greenhouse gases, surpassed only by the transportation sector.

In New York City, buildings are the number one source of carbon pollution.

RGGI has paid for over 30,000 free or reduced-cost energy audits for New York State homeowners. It also helps to fund low-cost energy efficiency retrofits for single and multi-family buildings.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

As RGGI’s financial success continues, Governor Cuomo has moved to codify the goal that 50 percent of New York’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030.

The state is also calling attention to the fact that Congress passed two joint resolutions this week seeking to overturn the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which restricts carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The resolutions now head to the White House.

“The people of New York expect more out of the Republican members of the New York Congressional Delegation who voted to disapprove of the Clean Power Plan,” said Basil Seggos, acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The science has spoken and action to address climate change has bipartisan support,” Seggos continued. “It’s time for policy makers to act and protect our citizens from our uncertain climate future.”

 

Are New York City’s Traffic Lights Going Green?

By 2025, all of New York City’s traffic lights—along with its government buildings and possibly even public housing facilities—could be powered by wind, solar, or some other form of renewable, green energy.

Earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio, issued a call to the energy industry to help the city identify creative solutions to bring reliable, cost-effective green energy to the Big Apple. This Request for Information seeks responses from all entities involved in the renewable sector—from developers and generators to transmission entities and financial institutions—and aims to identify new, rather than existing, renewable energy sources.

This distinction is important: the mayor’s intention is to inspire new clean energy projects, rather than taking from what already exists.

“This is a call to the marketplace: the biggest energy customer you’ll find is ready to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to renewable power,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement.

Responses to the RFI are due in early September. A formal request for proposals will come later this fall.

Purchasing Power

Solar panels atop Brooklyn home. Via http://www.quixotic-systems.com/images/10th_St.jpg
Solar panels atop Brooklyn home. Via Quixotic Systems.

New York City consumes a lot of energy. Powering the city’s 4,000 government buildings and tens of thousands of streetlights costs upwards of $650 million dollars every year, and is responsible for about 7.5 percent of the entire city’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s 3.2 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent for those who are counting.

[pullquote]”We aim to be the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the transformation of the energy market for NYC…”[/pullquote]That’s why de Blasio’s plan is so exciting. Not only could it dramatically reduce the city’s contribution to climate change, but it could actually make it possible for other localities to do the same.

By injecting more than $600 million into the renewable energy industry, the plan could spur innovation, bring down costs, and inspire cities around the world to follow suit.

“We aim to be the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the transformation of the energy market for NYC, so that renewables become a major part of our electric grid over the next generation,” said Nilda Mesa, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “The City, as one of the largest energy purchasers in the country, can use its purchasing power to lead the way.”

The renewable energy initiative is part of de Blasio’s One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC), wherein the city has pledged to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 (80×50), and emissions from City government operations 35 percent by 2025 (35×25).

NYS Aims to Cut GHG Emissions by Almost 30% in the Next 15 Years. Possible?

As climate change marches on, it’s hard to understand how we as a country will be able to turn this situation around. Our attachment to fossil fuels seems so intractable, and Congress still debates whether climate change is even real. But that’s only part of the story.

Albany [the NYS Energy Research & Development Authority] has just released its 2015 New York State Energy Plan. We are reading it closely now and will have more to say shortly. Take a second to absorb the fact that almost 100,000 New Yorkers commented on a draft of the plan. That’s a lot of people!

If you have the time, check out the plan’s overview. Here are the key goals articulated by the plan for the next 15 years:

1.) 40 percent reduction in New York’s greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.

To date, NYS has cut GHG emissions 12 percent from 1990 levels- we have 28 percent to go. The State’s long-term goal is to decrease total carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

How will that happen? By reducing GHG emissions from the energy sector- which is responsible for overall power generation, including power for industry, buildings, transportation, and our general lifestyle.

2.) Half of electricity generation to come from renewable energy sources.

“Renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass, will play a vital role in reducing electricity price volatility and curbing carbon emissions,” says the State.

3.) 23 percent decrease in energy consumption in buildings from 2012 levels.

Energy efficiency results in lower energy bills and is the single most cost-effective tool in achieving energy objectives, the State argues.

Renewable Energy- wind, solar and more

As part of the Plan, the State has eight renewable energy categories on which it will focus. We are using the Plan’s language in our summaries below.

  1. Large-Scale Renewables (e.g., wind farms and large solar arrays)- Centralized generation and transmission will continue to serve as the backbone of NY’s power grid. The State is making a 10-year budget commitment of $1.5 billion to stimulate greater investment in large scale renewables and put them on a path to grid-parity. The State has been investing in large-scale renewables since the 1950s, when the NY Power Authority developed its first hydroelectric stations. Since 2004, energy developers have built nearly 1,900 MW of clean power using state incentives.
  2. NY-Sun Initiative- launched in 2014, the $1 billion program provides long term support to the statewide solar industry using a declining incentive schedule. The goal is to create a self-sustaining solar market in New York, with an expected 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity added to the state’s electricity mix by 2023.
  3. K-Solar- helps K-12 schools go solar cost-effectively by aggregating hundreds of schools into regional procurement processes. Through May 2015, nearly 270 public school districts -over 35 percent of all districts in the state- have signed up for the program.
  4. “Shared” Renewables- only a quarter of residential rooftop area in the U.S. is suitable for hosting solar PV. Through “community net metering” New Yorkers will be able to participate in local renewable energy projects of all types and receive credit on their utility bills for their portion of the power produced.
  5. Offshore Wind Initiative-  creates an ecosystem for offshore wind that enables projects to develop at scale, rather than on a project-by-project basis. Includes forming a regional wind collaborative w-other northeastern states, and establishing “wind energy areas” throughout the Atlantic Bight coastal area.
  6. Renewable Heat NY & Other Renewable Thermal Technologies- supports greater use of “advanced” (less environmentally harmful) wood heating equipment, plus other renewable heating/cooling technologies and fuels (e.g., solar space and water heating, ground and air source heat pumps).
  7. Clean Organic Waste Management– helps the state’s wastewater treatment, agriculture, food processing, and waste management sectors to re-use organic waste. This includes anaerobic digestion, which turns waste into biogas.
  8. Sustainable Fuel Production–  re-uses agricultural and organic waste feedstock, especially as a substitute for petroleum fuels imported from out-of-state.

Here’s what some environmental groups have to say about the State’s energy plan

Conor Bambrick, air and energy director for Environmental Advocates of New York:

“The State Energy Plan sets clear benchmarks and standards that will operationalize Governor Cuomo’s prior commitment to reducing climate pollution 80 percent by 2050…The Governor and his team deserve credit for such an aggressive plan.

There will be no way to achieve these goals, however, if the state continues to make bad decisions that stall progress and exacerbate our climate problems, such as re-firing outdated fossil fuel plants and raiding carbon abatement programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

[Public] comments focused largely on issues like climate change, wind and solar power, and the need for the state to reduce climate pollution across all economic sectors. It’s an enormous level of engagement…We applaud people for taking time out of their lives to make their voices heard!

We will also work with the [NYS] Legislature to codify them [the State’s greenhouse gas reduction objectives]. The Assembly passed legislation to do this (A.6072), but Senate leadership has failed to bring the bill up for a vote. It is time for these goals to be set into law.”

And Jackson Morris, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted in a blog post yesterday:

“This is great for the climate, no doubt about it. But it’s also what New York needs to further build its economy. Plans like these, when designed well and thoughtfully implemented, create jobs and save consumers serious money on energy.

New York’s experience in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a case in point. The program, which includes nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, has helped cut greenhouse gas pollution from power plants by more than 40 percent since it was first implemented in 2005.

At the same time, the region’s economy has grown faster than the rest of the country’s, adding thousands of new jobs in fields like energy efficiency and renewable energy, and saving customers hundreds of millions on their energy bills already, with billions more to come.”

Better Ask the Bird: Should I Switch My Home to “Green” Power?

We’ve received many questions about this article. Most (if not all) are about Green Mountain Energy – are they affordable, ethical and truly green? We don’t want to deter you from reading on, but the article focuses on broader questions about Green Mountain and other ESCOs – who are they, what do they do, can they generally be trusted. There’s lots of useful info below…but this isn’t a review of Green Mountain Energy.That said, we’re also curious about Green Mountain. If you’re Green Mountain customer or employee past or present, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Or, if you’re a prospective customer, what do you want to know about Green Mountain? Drop us a line at nyenvironmentreport@gmail.com. And please keep asking questions – we’ll do our best to answer them! Email the Bird today!

Dear Bird: I’ve been approached (many times!) by “green” energy groups—at the farmer’s market, in front of my neighborhood grocery—asking me to switch to their service. I’m into renewable energy, and I love the idea of powering my home with solar or wind. But…are these groups for real? Should I take the plunge?

Windy in the City
New York, NY

Dear Windy,

Great question! We’ve also seen these folks at the market. Yes, they are for real. Bill McKibben(!) even profiled one of them, Green Mountain Power, in the the New Yorker.

Whether it’s Green Mountain or another “green” group, they likely represent an energy service company, or ESCO, which procures or produces electricity for residential customers like you (as well as commercial customers). ESCOs must be certified by the New York State Public Service Commission.

ESCOs became popular in the late 1990s in the wake of deregulation, offering consumers more choices and, sometimes, lower prices.

Here’s the catch: signing up with an ESCO doesn’t mean you’re switching your home directly to renewable energy. It’s impossible to know exactly where or how your specific electricity is generated.

When you sign up, the ESCO purchases wind or solar power on your behalf and it goes into the pool of electricity produced for the entire state or region where you live. This is the energy infrastructure grid, or sometimes just called “the grid”.

Nor does signing up with an ESCO mean you’re leaving behind the big utilities. ESCOs do supply energy for the grid, but Con Ed and National Grid still deliver it to your home (more on that in a bit).

Signing up with an ESCO does mean that you’re supporting and expanding the opportunity for renewable energy to be produced in New York State.

Take the Plunge?

NYER62515_1
Green Mountain Energy is an ESCO in New York City. Photo via Park Slope Stoop.

Whether or not you should take the plunge is a trickier question—switching utility providers is more complicated than buying an apple. Call us a cautious bird, but we’d recommend getting a pamphlet at the market and then heading home to do some more research.

After all, there are many ESCOs—83 at last count—and a range of services out there. Not all offer alternative energy. And not all of them will save you money.

So, what are your goals? Save money or support renewable energy? Or both, if possible? Once upon a time, switching to renewable energy meant paying a premium, but as more supply -and suppliers- come online, prices have fallen.

Now, take a really close look at your utility bill. We know, it’s not fun… but pull out bills from the past year. Compare them. Do they vary month to month? Seasonally? Knowing how much electricity you use during different seasons and how you’ve been charged for that usage will be a helpful guide for evaluating your choices.

It also helps to understand differences in charges. Your electricity bill consists of two components. One is for the supply of electricity, which is what this choice is about—ESCOs supply the electricity or natural gas.

There is also the delivery component, which reflects the costs for building, maintaining and transporting electricity from the point of production to your home. This is the work that Con Ed and National Grid do to earn their money.

Delivery accounts for at least 50-60% of your bill. Both supply and delivery charges are based on kWh, or the amount of electricity you actually use in a specified period – usually 30-32 days. Your choice of a supplier may affect the supply charges on your electric bill but it will have no effect on delivery charges.

Then take a thorough look at what the ESCO is offering. Where does the power come from? Different ESCOs supply different types of renewables—from wind to biomass. And of course, look at cost. Some ESCOs offer fixed-rate plans, while others vary rates with the energy market.

Buyer Be At Least A Bit Aware

While ESCOs are for real, some have used less-than-savory selling tactics such as “slamming” (switching customers to an ESCO plan without approval) and misleading customers, especially during door-to-door sales calls. Slamming is (of course) illegal and utilities like Con Ed will switch back “slammed” customers when notified.

And the Public Service Commission recently adopted stronger consumer protection standards, including a Consumer Disclosure Statement that you should see on the first page of any sales agreement.

Get Researching

Here’s a round-up of useful links to get you going:


Have you switched to an ESCO that supplies renewable energy? Or, do you have another question for us to dig in to? Drop The Bird a line – we’d love to hear from you!

Betsy Imershein provided the research and co-wrote this column with NYER. Thanks, Betsy!

What is Energy Democracy? And Could It Exist in New York State?

How is the price of our electric bill determined? How and where is the power we use generated? How quickly are we moving toward renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind? The public has a rare opportunity to discuss these and other energy-related questions with state officials over the next two weeks.

Despite the fact that New York State consumers pay billions to utility companies for our electricity needs, there is virtually no public involvement in determining how our energy supply and delivery system works and what the long-term objectives are.

Now more than ever, how we power our state has massive repercussions- for the economy, for public health, and for the climate.

The State is proposing to transform New York’s retail electricity market. They also want to change the way in which renewable energy and energy efficiency programs are funded. A major decision-making process –Reforming the Energy Vision (REV)- is now underway, and renewable energy and consumer advocates are encouraging the public to participate in the discussion.

The REV proceeding was initiated last year by the Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates utility companies in New York.

A More Decentralized, Market-Driven Approach

The stated goal of the REV process is to promote more efficient use of energy, deeper penetration of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, and wider deployment of “distributed” energy resources.

What is distributed energy? Think smaller scale and decentralized energy sources like micro grids, on-site power supplies (rooftop solar and residential wind), battery storage, and combined heat and power. Building retrofits for greater energy efficiency are also considered a distributed energy resource.

New York currently relies overwhelmingly on electricity generated at large plants fueled by natural gas, coal, nuclear, or hydro sources. That electricity is then delivered to consumers via high-voltage power lines.

Maintaining all of this infrastructure is expensive, and that cost is passed down to consumers. Transitioning toward distributed energy resources would ultimately save consumers money, say REV’s proponents.

A decentralized system would also be more nimble and resilient, and better able to recover from extreme weather events and outages, they argue.

Decentralizing our energy generation and distribution system means that consumers will -in theory- have many more choices about how they manage and consume electric energy. More New Yorkers are also generating their own electricity on-site.

How would consumers get to make choices in a decentralized energy market? A new pricing structure would be created to incentivize more environmentally friendly decisions. And the State envisions the use of “energy management products” which consumers could use, for example, to change their energy use during periods of peak demand.

Who Will Manage NY’s Clean Energy Markets?

Because so many more options will be available to consumers- who controls the infrastructure which manages those options is a critical question. Some environmental and public interest groups say that the platforms used to manage clean energy distribution and delivery in the future should not be controlled by investor-owned utilities, like National Grid or Con-Edison.

Rather, they argue, clean energy markets should be overseen by an independent statewide institution, “democratically governed by representatives from a variety of public interest sectors and stakeholders.”

Questions for the State

The Alliance for a Green Economy, a coalition of local environmental and social justice groups that is pushing for a “carbon and nuclear free” New York, says REV offers “potential for more localized ownership of energy projects and more participation by residents as energy producers, not just consumers.”

“There is also the potential,” says the Alliance, “for a power grab by corporations with a vested interest and lot to lose or gain from the transition to clean energy.”

The Alliance says that the REV process needs to address questions like:

  • What will the state’s renewable energy goals be for the next decade?
  • Will communities, individuals, competitive businesses or utilities own the state’s renewable energy resources?
  • What will be the role of utility companies in meeting the state’s energy goals?
  • Who can best motivate or help energy consumers make choices that will save them money, protect their health, and reduce their environmental impact?
  • What consumer protections will be put in place against deceptive marketing and predatory lending?
  • Will the state ensure affordable basic energy service for all?

The Bottom Line: Will REV reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions?

The State plans to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2050. Electricity generation produces about 16 percent of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions, says a recent State analysis.

[Transportation is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in New York State, generating one-third of the state’s total.]

REV reforms must include strong greenhouse-gas reduction targets for the energy sector, argues ALIGN, “based on the latest climate science.”

As the State plans to transform (and hopefully stimulate) the market for clean energy, the PSC is also proposing to change how New York’s renewable energy and energy efficiency projects are financed. Currently, electricity consumers help to pay for these programs, through a surcharge on our utility bills.

The thinking is that energy market reforms, such as a new pricing structure, will create strong incentives for a lot more private sector renewable energy development.

But the proposal to phase-out public sector support for renewable energy via the surcharge concerns some advocates.

Government support and subsidies for renewable energy should not be phased out, ALIGN states, “unless or until the REV’s market approach proves it can meet the state climate goals.”

Info sessions & public hearings on REV

A note to readers- the state’s REV process is highly complex and I am just starting to learn about it. Let’s share information! What do you know about REV and what it could mean for New Yorkers? Please submit any thoughts or info in the comment box below.

The Public Service Commission has organized public information sessions and hearings about REV, which are taking place across the state in the next two weeks. NYER will be at the New York City hearing so we can gain a better understanding of what the State is actually proposing.

SYRACUSE
Wednesday, January 28
The Oncenter
800 South State Street
Syracuse, NY 13202
Info Session 6pm
Public Hearing 7pm

BUFFALO
Thursday, January 29
Buffalo Central Library
1 Lafayette Square
Buffalo, NY 14203
Info Session 2pm
Public Hearing 3pm
Info Session 6pm
Public Hearing 7pm

NEW YORK CITY
Tuesday, February 3
Borough of Manhattan Community College
199 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
Info Session 2pm
Public Hearing 3pm
Info Session 6pm
Public Hearing 7pm

KINGSTON
Wednesday, February 4
Council Chambers
City Hall
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY 12401
Info Session 6pm
Public Hearing 7pm

ALBANY
Thursday, February 5
State University of New York at Albany
Page Hall
135 Western Avenue
Albany, NY 12203
Info Session 6pm
Public Hearing 7pm

YONKERS
Tuesday, February 10
Yonkers Public Library, Grinton I. Will Branch
1500 Central Park Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10710
Info Session 6pm
Public Hearing 7pm

Major Wind Farm Off Rockaway Coast Reviewed by Feds

Almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines may eventually be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula. Described as what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the United States, the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project is working its way through a multi-year federal review process.

The wind farm could yield as much as 700 MW of energy—enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes.

The project is a collaborative effort between Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority, and the New York Power Authority. LIPA submitted the proposal to federal regulators in September, 2011.

To date, no wind farms have been constructed in U.S. federal waters (more than three nautical miles off-shore). But several projects are grinding toward execution. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued seven commercial leases for offshore wind farms. Several other wind projects are now in the initial review stages.

Plans for wind farms in state-managed coastal waters are also underway. A competitive auction for possible developers of a wind demonstration project off the New Jersey coast is to be held on January 29th, a BOEM spokesperson said.

A Plan for Our Coastal Waters

As the Rockaway wind farm project is being reviewed, a full-scale comprehensive planning effort for the mid-Atlantic coastline is underway. Government regulators and advocacy groups say that the wide array of potentially competing uses in coastal waters—from commercial fishing to energy projects to military exercises to tourism—requires more public direction.

Public meetings regarding how best to manage New York’s coastal waters, and those of neighboring states, are taking place this week in Manhattan’s Javits Center. The meetings are led by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, a partnership of the state governments of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Could a Rockaway Wind Farm be Commercially Viable?

Developing a major wind farm off the coast of New York City is not seen as far-fetched by the private sector. Tracey Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told NYER that other potential wind farm developers have expressed interest in the site off the Rockaways.

“Wind has transitioned from an expensive green energy propped up by legislative support to a bona fide player that competes shoulder-to-shoulder with gas and coal for large generation projects,” noted a March, 2014 article in Business Insider.

“If natural gas prices go up any faster, wind power may even run at a discount to all major generation sources by 2018,” BI concluded.

And the Rockaway wind farm may even be able to out-compete other New York State wind projects.

“An offshore wind facility of this size has distinct advantages over inland options,” says the Con-Ed, LIPA, NYPA collaborative. Off-shore wind power will ultimately be cheaper and more reliable than wind power generated upstate, they say.

“In contrast to land-based wind facilities in remote regions of the state, ocean-based wind power is stronger, more consistently available, and can be situated closer to Long Island and New York City,” the collaborative notes.

“Land-based wind power availability tends to diminish during the hottest part of a summer day, which is precisely the time that Long Island, New York City and Westchester customers use the most electricity.”

A Long Way to Go

The Rockaway wind project is intended to help New York State reach its goal of meeting 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources by 2015. According to BOEM spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty, the project still has a long way to go.

The Rockaway wind farm is at the beginning of a four-step process.

First, BOEM must conduct a preliminary environmental review of the potential impacts of a wind farm in the proposed ocean site. The public will be able to submit comments as part of the review.

Second, a lease to develop the wind farm in federal waters is issued to the winner of a competitive auction process.

Third, a site assessment plan is developed, which involves the collection of more information (e.g., wind speed data, biological data) about the area proposed for development.

And finally, the wind farm’s developer submits a construction and operations plan. BOEM must then carry out a full environmental review of the project.

Moriarty said that BOEM is now completing an “Area ID” (i.e., identifying the Wind Energy Area). This is a necessary step before they can even begin the preliminary environmental review.

Balancing Renewable & Fossil Fuel Energy Projects Off the New York Coast

As the Rockaway wind farm review moves forward, the New York coast is also being examined as a possible site for a liquid natural gas facility. Liberty Natural Gas and West Face Capital have proposed to build a deepwater port in federal waters approximately 19 miles from the New York shore.

The facility, Port Ambrose, would consist of a submerged buoy system, which its developers say would be used to receive natural gas deliveries from the Caribbean.

In a June, 2014 letter to BOEM, Liberty argued that the two projects could co-exist. “Liberty believes that with proper siting and mitigation measures in place, one or more wind farms can be developed in the Call Area near Port Ambrose,” the company wrote.

“The minimum navigation requirements for Port Ambrose will total less than 4% of the 127 square mile Call Area, providing approximately 122 square miles of space for wind farm development,” they maintained.

Decision Time: Is NYS About to Allow Fracking?

Governor Andrew Cuomo reiterated Monday that his administration will take a “clear” position on high-volume hydraulic fracturing by the end of the year. The Cuomo administration says it will also release a long awaited Department of Health study regarding the public health impacts of fracking.

A statewide moratorium on the controversial drilling practice has existed for the last six years, but that may be about to change.

One possibility is an “in-between solution,” in which the Governor leaves the decision on fracking up to individual town boards. This could stop or heavily delay fracking in many New York communities.

Opponents of fracking say that communities without well-defined zoning ordinances, or who do not have strong local governments, could end up with fracking even if they don’t necessarily want it.

Elected Officials Call for a 3 to 5 Year Moratorium

Today in Syracuse, a statewide non-partisan group of more than 850 elected officials from all 62 counties, Elected Officials to Protect New York (EOPNY), released a letter calling on Governor Cuomo to enact a minimum three to five year moratorium on fracking.

“We need to be heard at this crucial moment,” wrote the elected officials to Cuomo. “We have reached out to you several times since our founding in June 2012, spurred by unprecedented levels of concern by our constituents over this industry. Their concerns, and ours, are well-founded and have not abated.”

The letter, from both current and retired elected officials, outlines “key areas of concern about negative impacts to public health, the environment, socioeconomic issues, [and] increasing evidence that drilling and fracking exacerbate climate change” and speaks to “the need for cumulative, comprehensive studies.”

What do New Yorkers think?

Over half, 56 percent, of residents oppose fracking in New York State, according to a survey commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Thirty-five percent of residents are in favor of allowing the practice.

The survey, carried out by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3) in September, had a +/- 4 percent margin of error.

Surveyors found that almost three-quarters, seventy-three percent, of New York State residents supported the current temporary ban on fracking until “scientific studies of its safety are conducted, and until the Department of Environmental Conservation creates rules to ensure fracking can be conducted safely.”

Therein lies the dilemma. Governor Cuomo has stated repeatedly that he will follow the recommendations of his about-to-be released Department of Health study. And if that study says there is a way in which fracking can be done safely, it is reasonable to assume the Governor will proceed.

Research for the Public to Consider

A number of studies have been released in recent weeks about the potential impacts of fracking.

Last week, “Concerned Health Professionals of New York,” which is led by Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, released a statistical evaluation of approximately 400 peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of shale gas development.

The group claims that 96 percent of all papers published on health impacts associated with shale gas development “indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.”

Fracking poses a real threat to local water supplies, the group argues. Almost three-quarters, 72 percent, of original research studies on water quality “indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination,” they report.

Concerned Health Professionals of New York is similarly urging Governor Cuomo to enact a three to five year moratorium on fracking. They have just updated and re-released their compendium of scientific, medical and media findings related to fracking.

Finally, a study released today by the NRDC found that a “growing body of scientific evidence shows that people both near and far from oil and gas drilling are exposed to fracking-related air pollution that can cause at least five major types of health impacts. This includes respiratory problems, birth defects, blood disorders, cancer and nervous system problems.”

The NRDC says they have conducted “the most comprehensive analysis of scientific studies to-date on the health impacts from fracking related air pollution.”

If not from fracking, where should our energy come from?

Residents surveyed by FM3 in September were asked which types of energy should be used more in New York. There is major support for increasing the use of renewable sources of energy, especially solar.

Here are the energy sources that interested New Yorkers most, and least.

  • Solar, 92%
  • Wind, 89%
  • Natural gas, 81%
  • Hydropower, 76%
  • Coal, 40%
  • Nuclear, 38%
  • Fracking, 29%

 

Tell us what you think about fracking and state energy policy, and we’ll keep you posted as events unfold in Albany.

 

The Objective of Sunday’s Climate March: Building a Clean Energy Economy

On the streets of New York City, signs promoting the People’s Climate March seem to be everywhere. Organizers project that the march could be the largest climate change mass-action ever. Over 100,000 are expected on the streets of New York.

Fourteen hundred -and counting- organizations have signed on, representing environmental causes and communities across the country and the globe. What is the fundamental objective that links all these groups and people together? What is the march supposed to accomplish?

The key focus, said Jamie Henn, strategy and communications director for 350.org, is to show mass public support for keeping eighty-percent of existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and moving aggressively toward an economy based on “clean energy.”

350.org is the lead organizer of Sunday’s march. Their name refers to the often-cited statistic that maintaining a livable climate requires a reduction in “the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.”

“There’s never been a march like this- on this scale,” Henn told NYER. The march “is a big tent moment,” he said, “to demonstrate a huge constituency” for addressing climate change. “What we’ve been lacking is political pressure…we need our political leaders to start responding to people, not polluters.”

Henn agreed that the movement was diverse, composed of hundreds of organizations who “also have very singular fights,” from stopping fracking to combatting pollution sources in individual towns and neighborhoods.

The focus on re-organizing our economy around clean energy, “makes it possible for lots of people from different walks of life to come together,” Henn stated.

New Global Emissions Targets Should Impact Energy Policy

The People’s Climate March happens two days before an “emergency” United Nation’s summit on climate change, which is intended to build political momentum for the negotiation of a new climate treaty in Paris next year.

Henn said that environmental groups across the globe will be watching the treaty negotiation process with one over-arching question: do new emissions targets “move us toward 100% clean energy? Does this mean that no more coal fired power plants will be built?”

What Would A Clean Energy Economy Look Like?

A Clean Energy Economy would be centered around renewable sources of energy, like the sun, wind and water. A focus on renewable energy would heavily impact capital investment and workforce development decisions, for example.

Both the City and the State of New York are investing in clean energy generation.

The City announced this week that it is constructing a hydroelectric facility to “capture the natural force of the billions of gallons of water” released from its upstate Cannonsville drinking water reservoir every year.

The plant, says the City, will generate enough electricity to power roughly 6,000 homes and it will avoid the emission of 25,620 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually—the equivalent of removing 5,400 cars from the road.

The facility is also expected to generate approximately $2 million in revenue each year, “depending on demand and the market price of electricity.”

Betting on Renewable (and cheaper) Energy

Making renewable energy sources cost-competitive with fossil fuels is key to their wide-scale adaptation. By the end of the decade, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council, “solar energy could become cheaper than conventional electricity in many parts of the country.”

New York State is investing heavily in solar. The Cuomo administration has committed a billion dollars to solar expansion over the next decade. The goal is to build 3,000 megawatts of solar power, enough “reliable clean electricity to power nearly half a million New York homes.”

New York is currently home to the largest solar farm on the East Coast, the 32-megawatt Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The Long Island facility produces enough electricity annually to power nearly 4,500 homes.

There are almost 140,000 American workers employed in the solar industry today, says the NRDC, and that number is expected to grow. New York could eventually be home to ten-thousand solar jobs based on the Governor’s investment.

And the NRDC has found that wind energy now costs about the same as electricity from new coal- and gas-fired power plants. American wind generates enough electricity to power more than 11 million homes, and provides manufacturing, construction and operation jobs for at least 75,000 Americans, the group adds.

In some months, says the NRDC, “wind energy provides more than 6 percent of our nation’s electricity, and experts estimate that in the future, wind energy could realistically supply five times that amount — 30 percent or more of our electricity needs.”

The State, and other partners, have been attempting to move ahead on a proposed wind farm off the Rockaway Coast. The Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project has the potential to be the largest off-shore wind facility in the U.S.

If built, the Farm could help the State meet its objective that New York obtain 45 percent of its electricity through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources. The State had originally proposed meeting this target by 2015, which now seems unlikely. Advocates are pushing the Cuomo administration to renew and stick with aggressive renewable energy targets.

Affecting Every Level of Society

Beyond power generation, however, a Clean Energy Focus will affect every level of society, especially our economy. The need for energy conservation means that our homes, workplaces and public buildings will have to be retrofitted, creating scores of jobs and other economic impacts.

Our methods of transportation will continue to shift toward electric vehicles, mass transit and bikes. Major investments will be required to expand mass transit, and rail-based cargo shipment.

Our waste stream will change as we send less of our trash to landfills, and more to recycling plants and facilities that can turn waste safely into energy. Transforming how we deal with trash will move jobs away from trucking and dumping it, and more toward re-using it.

The end result of moving away from fossil fuels? Enhanced air and water quality, thousands of new jobs dedicated to rebuilding our country, and a fighting chance at protecting our climate for future generations.

See you on Sunday.

Overwhelmed by Climate Change? Long Island is Taking Action Now

A note from the co-editor:

Recent reports on the melting of the ice sheet in Antarctica have added even more urgency to the global discussion on climate change. The local impact here in New York is sobering.

A climate scientist advising the city told New York Environment Report off-the-record yesterday that the situation in Antarctica makes “upper percentile values for sea level rise applicable for our region…look ever more likely, especially for longer time horizons.” 

A report released last year found that by the 2050’s, sea level at the Battery could rise by as much as 31 inches (upper percentile estimate) from 2000-04 baseline levels. New projections for the New York City-metro area will be released this summer.

How are we supposed to react to information of this magnitude? And what are we supposed to do as carbon continues to build up in the atmosphere? While the federal government struggles with its response, New York and other states are moving ahead, both to prepare for the future impacts of climate change, but also to reduce our carbon footprint now.

New York Environment Report will be featuring the efforts of state government and local communities to confront this dual challenge. From the wind farms of upstate New York to the Staten Island bluebelt, New York is trying to build a more environmentally sustainable future.

For instance, the community of East Hampton, Long Island has decided to do what would have been considered unthinkable a few years ago. Read this informative May 21st article by Beth Young from the East End Beacon to find out more…

-Sarah Crean

East Hampton Sets Lofty Goal for Renewable Energy

Photo credit: Dougtone via Creative Commons

“East Hampton became the first town in New York State to set a goal to meet all its electrical energy needs using renewable energy by the year 2020, after the goal was passed unanimously by the town board at Tuesday’s work session.

The board also agreed to attempt to meet the town’s community-wide energy use in all sectors, including heating and transportation, through renewable energy sources by the year 2030.

“Our everyday lives are impacted by the effects of global warming. We owe it to the children of East Hampton to do something about climate change and air pollution caused by fossil fuels,” said Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, town board liaison to the Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee, in a statement after the meeting.

“Meeting our future energy needs with clean, renewable energy sources will require a strong commitment from town government and all East Hampton residents,” she added. “It is time and we are ready to face that challenge.”

The Energy Sustainability Advisory will hold an open house meeting with the community tomorrow, May 22, at 6 p.m. at East Hampton Town Hall to discuss the details of their plan and their work to date.

Renewable energy is coming into its own. Towns and cities around the world are making plans.

The committee’s chairman, Frank Dalene, told the town board at Tuesday’s work session that all of East Hampton currently consumes about 288,000 megawatt/hours per year of electricity, but could generate about 317,490 kilowatt/hours of energy through renewable power.

Mr. Dalene pointed out that several municipalities across the country have already met the goal of 100 percent renewable energy, including Palo Alto, Calif., Greensburg, Kan. and Ithaca, N.Y. He said San Francisco has also set a goal to be powered completely by renewable energy by the year 2020.

“Renewable energy is coming into its own. Towns and cities around the world are making plans,” he said, adding that wind energy has room for enormous growth in the United States. In Europe, he said, 4 gigawatts worth of wind power have been installed, and plans are in the works for another 5.9 gigawatts of wind power.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell pointed out that the committee’s energy goals rely heavily on the construction of the Deepwater One wind farm currently being considered in the Atlantic Ocean 20 miles off the coast of Montauk…”

Read more of this article at the East End Beacon