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Source: Legislative Gazette

NY is a green leader

BY EMILY CLAIRE ATKIN AND JAMES NANI
GAZETTE STAFF WRITERS

Posted: April 19, 2010
Originally Published: April 19, 2010

With Earth Day approaching, many New Yorkers can recall the day in 1970 when the grassroots campaign took off. Members of the now international movement envisioned a more sustainable world, where individual lifestyles and public policy will evolve to prioritize climate change, energy efficiency, renewable resources and green jobs.

Forty years later, New York is a leader in the ongoing green crusade as the second most energy-efficient state per capita, according to a study released April 6 by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority.

NYSERDA is hailing the current state and federal administrations for helping to advance New York's environmental friendliness as well. But the state-run organization is also pointing out New York's areas of weakness — dependence on foreign fuel and excessive energy consumption, to name a couple.

"New York's energy portfolio presents both challenges and opportunities for the state," said Francis J. Murray, president and CEO of NYSERDA. "In the years ahead, we will need to maximize the potential of our renewable resources while continuing to increase our energy efficiency, diversify the state's energy mix, and support the growth of a clean energy economy."

The 67-page report completed in January details 15 years of energy use in New York, from 1994 through 2008, the last year for which data is available. But since 2008, the state is moving its energy agenda even further, according to Jeffrey Gordon, spokesman for NYSERDA.

According to Gordon, the governor plans to have 45 percent of New York's electricity needs met by improved energy efficiency and clean renewable energy by 2015. The "45 by 15" initiative includes proposals that would create a New York Energy Policy Institute and encourage clean energy use in business, higher education and public policy.

"New York has been a leader on green initiatives and green technology," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Citizens Campaign is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization that has been lobbying for pro-environmental legislation since 1985.

Esposito hailed the state for helping to finance advances made this year in clean energy, such as wind and solar power.

According to Esposito, both the New York Power Authority and the Long Island Power Authority have offered to fund solar power projects in their areas. The two authorities also offer financial incentives for making schools greener.

And in late March, Paterson announced the state had secured $24 million in federal stimulus funding for clean energy projects in small municipalities.
"[Wind and Solar power] is clean, it's safe, it's domestically produced — which means we keep our energy dollars here in New York state instead of sending them overseas," said Esposito. "It creates local jobs for New Yorkers, and it cuts our addiction to foreign fossil fuels."

According to the NYSERDA report, only 12 percent of New York's energy was met from in-state resources, including 7 percent from water power and 4 percent from biofuels, which are fuels usually made from vegetable oils, algae or animal fats.

The report also states that 91 percent of New York's petroleum came from foreign sources compared to the nation's average of 68, and it points out that there are no petroleum refineries in the state.

Out of all the types of fuel used in New York, petroleum was the most common in 2008. Thirty-seven percent of New York's overall energy consumption came from petroleum, whereas the average state's consumption amounted to 33 percent.

Esposito said the reason New York has no petroleum refineries is simple — there is no petroleum in New York. But sources of alternative energy, such as wind power, solar power, hydropower and natural gas can all be localized. New York, according to Esposito, just needs to continue to change its habits.

"The point is, instead of us sending our energy dollars to nations that don't like us, we could keep our dollars here in New York," said Esposito. "It just makes good sense."

But New York's energy dilemmas do not stop with foreign dependence. Along with being the second most energy efficient state behind Rhode Island, the report dubs New York as the fourth biggest consumer of energy in the country. Texas consumes the most, with California second and Florida third.

Though it may seem New York's vast population is to blame for its large consumption of energy, Esposito says the problem may lie in the state's buildings and transportation systems.

According to Esposito, many buildings in New York are very old and not insulated properly. Therefore, people who live in those buildings use large amounts of heating and cooling that is essentially wasted; that could, according to Esposito, be saved if the buildings were renovated.

"The thing that threatens [renovation work] is our budget crisis," said Esposito. "Up to the budget crisis we were excelling. And now, I'm afraid we may screech to a halt."

The NSYERDA report states that 75 percent of petroleum used in 2008 was for transportation. To counter excessive petroleum use, Paterson included in his 45 by 15 initiative the creation of a consortium to dvelop batteries and energy storage technologies he hopes would support hybrid electric vehicles.

In addition, Paterson's plan pushed for the U.S. Department of Energy to approve New York's Weatherization Recovery Act Funding Plan to use $394 million in federal stimulus funds to make 45,000 low-income households more energy efficient.

Paterson's office said federal stimulus funds could reduce heating and cooling costs by $500 million over 15 years. Combined with annual federal Weatherization Assistance Program funds, the stimulus could result in more than $500 million toward weatherization of low-income homes.