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Draft New York State Energy Plan opens door for natural gas development

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Out of about 30 speakers who turned out on a workday at SUNY Farmingdale, Monday, March 3, to speak at a public hearing on the proposed New York State Draft Energy Plan, 28 were emphatic about the failure of the plan to aggressively focus on clean, renewable energy including spurring offshore wind, solar and geothermal, and expressed horror at the latitude given to natural gas development. Only one speaker, a paid lobbyist of the industry, insisted that natural gas was the way to assure economic prosperity and that windpower was too expensive an alternative.

But the vast majority weren't just proposing a "tweaking" of the proposed plan, but rather a radical change in direction - one that rejects altogether the notion that natural gas is a "clean fuel" that would achieve the overall objectives for the energy plan.

They say that the massive investment that is going toward creating an infrastructure to support natural gas - hydrofracking wells, the pipelines and roads, the processing centers and distribution ports - which would be encouraged under the proposed plan unless banned outright, should be directed instead straight into truly clean renewable energy.

They oppose the construction of the Port Ambrose Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) facility that is proposed for the water south of Long Island's South Shore - the best place in the country for offshore wind farm, that could supply a substantial amount of Long Island's power needs.

They cited studies which say that Long Island could actually generate 100 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2030 - from offshore wind, solar, geothermal, combined with conservation including building codes - if it undertook the same kind of aggressive policy as would be applied to natural gas production. That 100%!

And in so doing, Long Island could become a national, even international leader, with a new industrial base that would harken back to the glory days when Long Island was the hub for aerospace and defense.

Cuomo’s proposed Energy plan does not do any of that.

Ostensibly, the plan's aims - as detailed by the commission's chair, John Rhodes, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority are: providing energy affordability; unleashing the power of private sector financing; more resilient, flexible power grid; give customers more control; align energy with market demand.

In addition to Rhodes, the public hearing was conducted by Judith Lee, Executive Deputy of the Public Service Commission, and Jared Snyder of NYS Department of Environment Conservation.

But what do these terms actually mean in practice? These “objectives” really sound like an excuse to the most deep-pocketed companies to get their way by claiming they offer the most "affordable" energy.

"From the standpoint of reducing climate change and lessening our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, Governor Cuomo’s proposed energy plan is a nonstarter," said Eric Weltman, senior organizer with Food & Water Watch. "Though it calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it conversely includes a greater reliance on natural gas obtained through fracking, a dangerous and destructive drilling method that contributes to climate change. It’s time for Governor Cuomo to go back to the drawing board and write an energy plan that turns away from fossil fuels and moves aggressively toward a truly clean, renewable energy future for New York.”

David Alicea, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer stated, “Now more than ever we need Governor Cuomo to be a climate leader, but he missed the mark with this plan. If Governor Cuomo is serious about protecting our families, he must plan to invest in clean, reliable offshore wind this year by purchasing power from a project east of Montauk and moving forward with a project proposed off Long Beach.”

"This plan is supposed to shape New York's energy future, but it keeps us anchored to the 20th century model of relying on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs," said Jessica Reid, Regional Campus Supervisor for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). "We can't frack and burn our way to healthier communities and a cleaner environment. A State commitment to producing half of our energy from clean, renewable sources by 2025 will protect the public and our environment while driving the 21st century clean energy economy New York desperately needs."

Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment took the proposed plan to task for failing to include numerical goals for renewables, for wind, offshore wind, solar, geothermal, battery storage.

"What we’d like to see this plan have is specific strong targets and dollar values to the goals – it doesn’t do that. The draft plan doesn’t provide the clear blueprint we are looking for with aggressive, achievable goals for renewables.

"We know, regardless of previous testimony you have heard, renewable can, should and needs to play a significant role in NY energy plan.

"For instance, NYS Department of Energy - not known for whimsical commentary - has stated that NYS can supply 50% of its electricity needs from wind power. And yet, not one offshore wind farm exists in New York State. The viable proposals put forward in great lakes and Atlantic have died a slow, painful death one by one. Why is that?

"Is it new technology? No. You don’t need me to tell you that it began 23 years ago in Denmark, how Europe has become the number one leader in offshore wind farm development: UK, 3681 megawatts, America zero. Denmark 1271 mw; Belgium 571 mw. Germany, 520 mw. Netherlands 240 mw of offshore wind energy. Collectively, Europe has 6562 mw of offshore wind energy generated. America zero.

"What has Europe figured out that we haven’t?" she asked.

"This is not new technology, it works, we don’t need pilot programs, we need to get aggressive, need to do it, we need you to assign real value to the plan."

"For Long Island, anything that causes the transition from oil to natural gas – substituting one fossil for another - is not good energy nor public health policy.

"The transition to natural gas is a backdoor embrace of hydrofracking. That won’t work for New York State – natural gas is not an energy bridge to future, but rather a highway to polluted air, contaminated water, and one that we reject," Esposito said.

A man who described himself as a former head of the local Republican committee, said, "Bring us a plan that bans fracking or imported gas from fracking.

"Bring us a plan that puts solar panels on every rooftop in New York and leads the nation to zero-carbon economy and most importantly, bring us a plan that takes 10 years to do. In the 1970s, Walter Cronkite was telling us we had energy crisis; we’re in the 2014s, we can’t wait until 2050.

"I urge you to think of climate change as an iceberg and you as the captains of the Titanic. Big Energy is telling 'Don’t worry, your ship is unsinkable, keep going full speed ahead.' The world scientific community is telling you, 'You have an iceberg in front of you, slow down and change course.'

"I urge you to change course. That metaphorical iceberg- are more Superstorm Sandys, Katrinas, deadly tornadoes, wildfires, and more colder weather than Alaska, acidification of ocean and sealevel rise, what Kerry said is the greatest challenge to our generation – greater than terrorism, disease or Weapons of Mass Destruction. I urge you to change course and create a Zero Carbon Plan for New York State for your children and children’s children," he said to resounding applause.

Jessica Roth, a young woman who traveled to Farmingdale from Brooklyn (and chided the panel for holding its hearings during the work day), called the proposal "a failed opportunity for Cuomo and New York State to be leader. This plan is based on the false premise that natural gas is a clean energy solution. It is not, it is dangerous and destructive... Need to be forward thinking, not mired in past."

She also raised questions about what is meant by promoting private investments.

"Stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry – that's not a fair playing field for renewables....The proposed Green Bank has too many open questions. If it promotes investment in fossil fuel based on idea that natural gas is clean energy, you are promoting investment in something destructive."

"The plan offers no description of what the public-private partnership means. I am cynical, I expect that to be fossil fuel [projects that will get funding] –it came straight out of publicity from fossil fuel industry. The plan needs transparency and energy choices. We need to know where money comes from.

"We need true energy choices – if we are choosing between tar sands, nuclear and natural gas that’s not a choice, that’s a crisis. Choices impact us day to day – not about just turning on the TV, but the environment in which we live."

Out of all the speakers, only one, Rich Thomas, Director of New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) - a paid lobbyist for the energy industry - made the argument that wind energy is too costly while natural gas meets the plan's goal of "affordability." He bemoaned shutting down the Shoreham nuclear plant as a big mistake, supports reauthorization for Indian Point and NY's three other nuclear plants, and of course, advocated for approval of the Port Ambrose LNG.

(Worth noting here that Thomas works for Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, chairman of NY AREA), who is the founder and Chairman of Empire Government Strategies, a major lobbying firm, and during his 23-year career in the NYS State Assembly, headed the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, and was the principal author NYS’s power plant siting law. Do you think that Kremer's clients at Empire Government Strategies might stand to benefit from the public-private partnership provisions of the energy plan? it is worth noting that after empire government Strategies won a victory for its client, the electronics manufacturing industry, Anthony M. Figliola, Vice President of Empire Government Strategies, declared, “This is, yet another major victory for Empire and our clients. Our team has proved time and time again that when an organization needs a professional government relations team to advance their cause whether on the federal or state level, Empire is there to answer the call.” This basically answers the question raised earlier in the hearing by Jessica Roth over who would be the beneficiary of the "public-private partnerships. See Kremer's statement on fracking NY, where he consoles the gas industry, "The U.S. Department of Energy has cited New York as one of the states where based on its location wind and solar is not a viable long term energy option," and suggests that opposition is a pr problem)

"We should be a net seller out of state –we should have abundant infrastructure with good paying middle class jobs, while keeping dollars in-state and in some places revitalize," Thomas said. "We should never be at mercy of out of state providers who could have economic stranglehold – subzero temp and snowstorms pushed some energy systems to limit" and incidentally, resulted in multiple surcharges on gas since January.

"Port Ambrose increases supply, reducing prices for customers. It provides an important economic benefit – 600 construction jobs, investment of $90 million in goods and services, and will not export – but will provide for gas used in the region which desperately need it," he insisted. "This is not the time to slice and dice the plan to accommodate some groups ...Our state needs more power, not less."

He then insisted that natural gas offers more affordability than wind.

But that discounts actual facts about how the cost of wind power (like anything else) goes down as the technology becomes more widespread. (See Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune's article in Sierra's magazine, "All In," which documents the plummeting cost of wind power and makes the argument: "If we commit to it, America's electric grid will be free of fossil fuels by the year 2030 - and it's a fix that will last forever."

"Going forward, the state's energy plan should take into consideration opportunities specific to Long Island – wind aligns with all those things," said Clint Plummer, Vice President of Development at Deepwater Wind, which is building the nation's first off-shore wind farm, off Block Island. "It delivers energy cost effectively when and where it is needed, producing peak output during the middle of day and the middle of winter when Long Island's gas system is most constrained. Wind has the unique ability to create large local industry, put hundreds on Long Island to work. We've seen it around world, 50,000 jobs globally, with potential to reach 200,000 by the end of the decade.

"That's something that could be done here on Long Island – US Department of Energy estimates that by 2030, there could be 70,000 jobs just on the US east coast alone – even capturing a portion would be a boon for Long Island economy.

"Offshore also is uniquely cost competitive in delivering energy to constrained, coastal population – where it is difficult to deliver new forms of energy."

It's not just offshore wind. Speakers at the hearing also highlighted another form of renewable that is not widely touted, but has massive potential for almost every residential, commercial and government building on Long Island: geothermal.

This isn't energy captured from volcanoes - it is a system that replaces the building's heating and air-conditioning systems by tapping into the constant temperature underground and when combined with photovoltaics, virtually eliminates fossil fuel-generated energy altogether.

A whole industry is developing here on Long Island to install and retrofit these systems, which could eliminate the equivalent of 240 MW of energy use (the equivalent of one power plant), over a 10-year period; 100,000 installations could reduce 1.1 million metric tons of carbon emissions during their average 20-year lifespan, Elive Roberti of Huntington, told the panel.

This is the sort of "private sector" incentives the Cuomo energy plan should promote, but doesn't.

Donovan Gordon of North Bellmore, a member of the US Greenbuilding Council, pointed to the objective of "unleashing the power of private sector energy financing – extremely critical issue" but said, "the geothermal industry should have parity with solar and wind as far as investment incentives." there should be sales tax exemptions, and an extension of tax credits for commercial building, there should be financing made available from the proposed Green bank for geothermal for residential, commercial and government buildings."

There is still time to make your opinions heard, as well. Written comments are being accepted through April 30 at the website, energyplan.ny.gov, where you can also read the 2014 Draft NYS Energy Plan.

See also:

Ukraine Crisis reverberates on Long Island as NYS Energy Plan is finalized

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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