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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: NY Makes A Big "Green" Move

Following the hottest year in recorded history, and the warmest winter, New York State is enduring a scorcher of a summer.  In fact, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has declared that all of New York is now on a “drought watch.”  

And while we cannot attribute all of these changes in weather to global warming, it certainly doesn’t help.  The world’s experts have long agreed that global warming is, in large part, the result of human activities.  They have documented that the planet is heating up and that climate changes will result – a hotter planet will result in droughts and more intense storms, for example.

Those experts have concluded that in order to curtail the damage that global warming is having on the planet, policies should be put in place to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases the world releases into the atmosphere.  Since much of the leading greenhouse gases are the result of the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – these experts have argued that public policies focus on keeping those fuels in the ground.

In New York State, the governor heeded that advice when he announced that the state would not allow the oil and gas industry to use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to exploit New York’s natural gas reserves.  At that time, New York State was the first state with significant natural gas reserves to ban fracking.  Since then, there has been a growing body of evidence that frackingdoes pose environmental and public health risks.  And what has become clearer still is that the world needs to keep fossil fuels in the ground – not burn them so the resulting gases rise into the lower atmosphere and become a heat-trapping blanket.

But that decision raises an important question – how does New York generate power in a post-fossil fuel era?

Last week, New Yorkers got a glimpse of how that question will be answered when the Cuomo Administration announced the construction of a large wind farm off the coast of Long Island.

The Administration declared that it would power the state with 50 percent renewable energy — more than twice what it uses now—by 2030.   An important way to reach that goal would be to use the wind power generated off the Atlantic coast. 

According to the Administration, the wind farm would be the largest in the nation.  When completed in 2022, it would consist of 15 wind-powered turbines located 30 miles off the coast of Montauk, at the eastern end of Long Island. The project would generate 90 megawatts, enough energy to power about 50,000 Long Island homes.

The benefits of a wind farm off Long Island include power generation close to a densely-populated area with high electricity costs, and proximity to large ports.  The project also would provide a good source of jobs.

Of course, generating power from wind also helps to reduce the state’s reliance of fossil-fuel-based power generation sources, and helps curb the health-related harms resulting from pollution generated by these sources.

Wind power alone is not the solution to meet the world’s energy needs.  Other alternative energy sources – most notably solar – will also need to develop.  And we’ll need to take a big step forward in battery storage, to allow us to bank energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.  Nevertheless, offshore wind power is adding significant power to the world. 

Globally, generation more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006. At the end of last year, global capacity was more than 70,000 megawatts. In the energy-hungry United States, a single megawatt is enough electricity to power about 250 homes. Germany has the most installed wind energy capacity, followed by Spain, the United States, India, and Denmark. Development is also fast growing in France and China.  Industry experts predict that if this pace of growth continues, by 2050 wind power will be the answer to one third of the world's electricity needs.

New York State has taken a big first step to helping the world meet that demand.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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