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Source: Newsday

OPINION: Look to renewables for LI's future

BY ADRIENNE ESPOSITO AND KYLE RABIN

Posted: December 11, 2009
Originally Published: December 10, 2009

Adrienne Esposito is executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Kyle Rabin is executive director for Network for New Energy Choices.

As world leaders meet in Copenhagen to jumpstart negotiations on climate change, huge steps are needed here to green the electric power industry, currently responsible for about one-third of all greenhouse gases emitted in the United States.

Various planning efforts - including the New York State Energy Plan, Gov. David A. Paterson's "45 by 15" program, the Long Island Power Authority's 10-year Electric Resource Plan and LIPA's offshore wind farm - could put us on the right track. These plans, due out within the next few months, provide the right blueprint. But shouldn't we be striving for even higher clean energy goals and expedited plans to implement them?

A study published earlier this year in Scientific American asserts that, based on the authors' peer-reviewed research, all of the world's energy could be supplied by solar, water and wind resources by as soon as 2030. Given that huge potential, Long Island should set the boldest possible goals and put our region at the forefront of the fledging clean energy economy.

The New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state's electricity grid, currently requires that 97 percent of the electricity used on Long Island be generated here. Building solar and wind generation here at home - including land-based small-scale and large-scale offshore wind - should take precedence over importing renewable energy from upstate or elsewhere.

The plan for Long Island's energy future should be driven by one motive - generating energy to meet the needs of the present without compromising our ability to meet the needs of the future. There is no single path to such sustainability; it encompasses diversification of technologies and practices including wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, smart grids, efficiency, conservation and more. Some tell us that this will cost too much or that now isn't the time. Some say we can't afford this change. They're wrong.

Proactively creating our renewable energy future will create high-tech jobs, keep energy dollars in the local economy, improve our health and protect natural resources. Long Island is already home to highly skilled professional solar and wind-system installers who are ready to get to work constructing the region's new energy future. We should aim to expand this sector with business incentives for manufacturers of solar cells and systems, wind turbine blades, generators and other manufactured parts.

The environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy are widely known and supported by policymakers, officials and residents on Long Island. We all benefit from improved air quality, reduced rates of respiratory ailments and fewer sick days and hospital visits. Phasing out our fossil-fuel power plants will also improve the health of coastal ecosystems that are damaged every day by the antiquated cooling intake systems currently used at National Grid's power plants.

The transition to 100 percent renewable generation will, of course, take time. And there is the daunting dilemma of determining the future of the five National Grid power plants. Their ownership, repowering and operation need to be determined in the context of a plan that leads to their retirement - not a recommitment to using them for the next 30 years. Repowering these plants is the greatest idea of the 20th century. Now we need a plan for the 21st. Repowering shouldn't take precedence over advancing renewable options.

LIPA will be at the center of this transition. Already, LIPA is making meaningful strides in advancing solar, residential wind and energy efficiency programs. Now LIPA and our state representatives should aggressively seek a resolution for the National Grid power plants that is best for the public. Also, towns need to ensure that their local ordinances encourage installation of renewable energy systems on homes, schools and businesses, and the adoption of energy efficient practices by residential and business consumers. Current complex permit processes, high permits fees and height restrictions are counterproductive.

At this crucial juncture we have a clear choice: Continue to rely on finite resources to power rapidly aging, environmentally destructive central power plants, or take full advantage of our geography and place ourselves in the vanguard of 21st- century energy production. With courageous leadership behind a bold vision, Long Island can become a national model of a clean, green economy.