An Opportunity Report

(#297)  — In a few months, the first round in the state-wide competition for $90,000,000 in sustainable energy funding from New York State begins.  Since one of the stated standards for award success is projects that leverage these funds to garner 9 times their amount, this is a significant opportunity for Sullivan County to take a big step in building an energy efficient and renewable energy economy.  This can be achieved at no additional cost, generate 40% more jobs than the fossil fuel-based energy we now use, and save tens of millions in environmental and personal health related costs.  By the way, that is the definition of a sustainable economy – no extra or even lower cost but very substantial benefit being shared on a far more equitable basis.

This column focuses on local electric energy because it will be the predominant energy source of the sustainable economy and healthy living environment of our future.  A few facts are in order for context.  Like other sources of energy, local  electricity has increased in cost – 33% since 2000 – with new applications for a stiff increase before the Public Service Commission.  Current dependence upon large remote fossil fuel based electric generation plants entails the loss of 2/3 of the energy produced at these plants before it arrives at the use point.  A quick look at a residential electric bill confirms that the delivery charge is more than the energy charge.  No new electrical generation has been licensed since 1993.  41% of the total regional electric generation comes from two nuclear power plants, Indian Point 2 and 3.  The next largest source is hydropower sites dating from the 1920’s although many of these facilities have received recent renovation.  The transmission and distribution lines receive upgrades at a rate far below what is necessary, the maintenance is very expensive, the lines leak 30% or more of the energy they carry, and cannot stand up to the new weather extremity that is our future.  All this being said, electricity is the best source of energy for our future.

Here is a short list of ways of garnering millions of dollars in electrical energy savings and revenue.  It is a matter of reduce and produce or greater energy efficiency and renewable energy production.  Just a few methods of energy efficiency include purchase of efficient appliances and installation of smart meters.  NYS has a large program to subsidize the purchase of electric appliances that are 5 or more times more efficient.  Another NYS program makes energy audits and energy saving retrofits available at no out of picket expense. Utilities in our area are considering smart meters to reduce peak demand, which is very costly and often hard to manage with failure costing billions in a very short time.  Smart meters would also allow building owners to control their electric use on a day-to-day basis.

On the production or supply side of electricity, we can build local solar and wind systems to cover a very large part of our electricity requirements. The best sites have already been identified and measured.  More on this in next week’s column.

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