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Fact Sheet 15
Renewable Energy In New York

from a Hudson Valley Green Times article by David Wooley

Three-quarters of New York´s electricity is generated from imported natural gas or from aging coal and nuclear plants. Most of our worst air pollution problems, including acid rain, smog, haze, fine particles and toxins, come from the nation´s electric power sector. Electric prices rose dramatically last summer in this region, due in part to increased prices for imported fossil fuel burned in power plants. No one wants to end up like California. So how does a fossil-fuel-poor state secure clean and reliable electric power supplies?

Energy conservation and regulatory changes are needed, but part of the answer is blowing in the wind, and lying fallow on our farms. NY´s wind energy potential, located mainly around farmlands in the central and western part of the state, is greater than that of California. Recent technical advances have greatly lowered the cost of electricity production from wind. The state´s first two large-scale wind energy farms went on line this Fall in Madison and Wyoming counties, and experts believe there is 5000 megawatts of wind energy potential in NY.

Similarly, NY has enormous potential to generate electric power from clean and renewable biomass resources. NY´s farmland is ideal for growing energy crops, such as hybrid willow trees that can be planted and harvested for boiler fuel with only beneficial impacts on the land and economies of farming communities. Methane can be generated from manure and agricultural residues to run small distributed electric generators.

Last but not least, NY´s solar energy potential is large because the peak of electric power production from photovoltaic (PV) cells coincides with the peak demand for energy in our urban centers. In recent years companies, such as the Powerlight Corporation, have developed large-scale PV systems (100-1000 kW of generating capacity), that could make important contributions to electric power peak loads in cities. Imagine a megawatt of solar panels on every warehouse and strip mall ringing NYC, and you get an idea of the potential, if we as a society have the will to go after it.

Economic benefits from agricultural-based and urban renewable energy development are considerable. Dependence on imported fuel sends huge amounts of NY wealth on a one-way trip down coal mines and oil/gas wells in other states and nations. By contrast, wind, solar and biomass energy investment produces local jobs, income for farmers, local tax payments and no pollution.

Renewables are initially capital intensive and are currently more costly than average wholesale electricity prices. But once established, power costs over the 20-30 year life of a wind turbine, are likely be lower than power generated by traditional power plants. Increasing wind turbine efficiency, federal tax credits and growing consumer interest in `green pricing´ mean that wind energy needs only modest governmental support. Similarly, small scale methane generators require only a little bit of help to become well established in the state. These also provide valuable water quality benefits by reducing stream pollution and odors from traditional farm waste management. Urban solar installations can reduce the risk of brownouts and distribution system failure, by relieving the congested urban electric systems of load at precisely the time when they are most vulnerable to failure. Think of the value of that!

New ways of marketing renewable energy are just now beginning to emerge in New York. One company, PG&E National Energy Group, is selling `Pure Wind Certificates´ directly to consumers (separate from electric energy sales) from its Madison Wind Power project ( The idea is beginning to catch on, but for certificate sales to support large amounts of wind generation, masses of customers need a convenient option to buy a wind energy product as part of a routine electric bill. Since that is not yet happening, several policy changes are needed.

  • First, NY should follow the example of Texas, and 7 other states, that require all power retailers to gradually increase the renewable energy content of their electricity products. These ³Renewable Portfolio Standards² create a firm wholesale market for wind, solar and biomass, unhampered by the uncertainties of the still immature retail electric markets.

  • Second, the Madison and Wyoming County wind farms as well as numerous large PV systems (i.e., Ithaca Library) were supported by capital contributions from the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). These used `public benefit´ funds collected from electric rates under a 1996 NY Public Service Commission (PSC) order. The PSC has wisely decided to renew and increase the fund, and made a five-year $47.5 million commitment to large and small wind generator development. This level of commitment sustained over ten years, could stimulate more than 500 megawatts of wind, solar and biomass capacity and more than a half billion dollars in private investment in NY projects.

  • Third, wind `net-metering´ and tax credit legislation could create a small turbine industry in NY. Net metering is an arrangement between the electric distribution company and a customer or landowner, whose electric bills are reduced in exchange for the surplus wind energy supplied to the power grid. Net metering should eventually be expanded to commercial-scale PV systems and small biomass generators.

  • Finally, state power authorities (New York Power Authority, NYPA, and Long Island Power Authority, LIPA) could offer long-term power purchase agreements to wind, solar and biomass. This would create a long-term hedge against electric price spikes for their customers. NYPA could also finance power lines to connect wind sites with the grid.

  • Wind energy is the world´s fastest-growing energy source, expanding 25% to 30% annually. Biomass and solar generation are also growing fast. New York State could share in this growth and become the East´s leading renewable power state.

David Wooley is Director, Windpower NY, a project of the American Wind Energy Association:

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