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Microgrids Hold Key To NY's Electric Future

How can local communities in New York generate their own power and become less reliant on the electric grid? State officials were in Albany Wednesday to explain.

The Statewide Winter Energy Tour is holding information sessions in each of the 10 Regional Economic Development Council regions, many of which have suffered from the effects of extreme weather. 

At the Albany stop, Gil Quiniones, President and CEO of the New York Power Authority, told a room full of community, business and government leaders that the focus of the tour is locally-based microgrids, a move precipitated by climate change. Quiniones pointed out that the state has endured  12 severe weather events since Andrew Cuomo took office as governor.

Quiniones went on to explain that New York households spend nearly $2,500 per year on energy, some of the highest rates in the country. To keep the state competitive, he says the grid must be reimagined.  "What we really want is a grid that is reliable, that's flexible, that's smart and connected, and resilient, and that's what we're trying to build and keep the power and the energy cost in New York affordable, so that we can continue to be a state to attract, retain businesses and investments and jobs."

That re-imaginization process rollout is coming through what’s called the "New York Prize."   "The state has put aside $40 million and challenged communities to be imaginative and to propose to us community grids or microgrids to make sure that we evolve our current grid to the future grid, which is more distributed, and that communities and individuals can have more control of the energy that they use. More reliable and more resilient, especially against severe weather events, cleaner energy, better for the environment, and more cost-effective."

 In the event of a power outage, microgrids can help communities provide vital public services and power to residential customers and critical operators such as hospitals, first responders and water treatment facilities. They can also add electricity to the main grid during times when demand is highest.

John Saintcross is Assistant Director of Smart Grid R&D and the NY Prize competition at NYSERDA:  "Some of the smaller municipalities, if you look in New England or some parts of New York State, they would classify themselves as sort of a microgrid, maybe not as small as we're talking about in the New York Prize competition.  Historically, a lot of the communities in New York had micro grids. They basically started with a mill and a stream or a river, they strung wire down the streets to connect homes and formed cooperatives where the members would manage the generation and supply of power to their homes."

New York has a head start: according to Boston-based market research firm Greentech Media, New York is the leading Northeastern state, with 75 microgrids in operation and 200 megawatts of installed microgrid capacity. Saintcross noted that Thomas Edison's original electric distribution system in Manahattan is a perfect example of a community grid. 

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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