Tompkins County hosts energy experts in public forum

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Ithacans gathered  in the Tompkins County Library on Wednesday to discuss Governor Andrew Cuomo’s draft for the 2014 New York State Energy Plan.

The meeting featured guest speakers Jackson Morris, senior energy & climate analyst at the National Resources Defense Council, and Dr. Brice Smith, associate professor and chair of physics at SUNY Cortland. Dr. Tony Ingraffea, professor of engineering at Cornell, moderated the forum.

The plan features 15 initiatives and, according to the speakers, sets bold goals for the future of renewable energy.

“One piece that’s in the plan–which, again, is a good thing–is that it reiterates the state’s commitment to an 80 percent reduction [in CO2 emissions] by 2050,” Morris said. “There’s also a 2030 target … one piece that we’re going to be advocating for in the state energy plan process is to have interim benchmarks in the near term.”

Gas Consumption

As of 2010, over 60 percent of New York’s energy consumption stems from petroleum and natural gas. Petroleum use has declined considerably since 1990, from about 47 percent to 34 percent in 2010; however, natural gas use has increased in that time frame from just under 25 percent to 33 percent. Natural gas is the umbrella term that includes the controversial procedure known as fracking.

“If we’re concerned about this type of production, we should care whether it’s here or in Pennsylvania,” Dr. Smith said, explaining that the only way to wean off natural gas consumption (and, therefore, end fracking by decreasing demand) is to increase solar, wind and hydraulic energy sources. The plan does include initiatives to increase those clean, renewable sources; however, the plan also increases natural gas production as well.

Creating a Green Economy

Initiative 4 in the plan aims to establish a $1 billion “New York Green Bank” that would partner with the private sector to provide financial support in clean energy investments and business ventures.

Both speakers mentioned how happy they were that New York had ‘decoupled’ economic growth and the state’s emissions profile.

“Basically, our CO2 equivalent emissions per GDP, that metric, is no longer tied to each other,” Morris said. “So we’re out of the trap, and the myth, that economic growth has to equate to more pollution, and that’s not the case in some other states that have more intensive manufacturing sectors.”

Education

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Energy Plan, as expressed by both speakers (and not just in the realm of education), is the lack of detailed goals and guidelines for each initiative. So, for example, Initiative 15 addresses education as a comprehensive goal rather than a set of attainable, near-term targets.

“In terms of formal education, thinking in a school setting, that Initiative 15 is really it,” Smith said in a comment after the forum had ended. “It has tasked the State [Education] Department to basically look at how it could leverage its existing economic development in other initiatives to try and grow what they call the ‘clean energy workforce.’ So, in terms of specifics, it doesn’t have a whole lot of direct initiatives that it’s going to propose, it’s really tasking the State [Education Department] to look at it.”

Comment

One of the purposes of the public forum was to help educate the publics’ comments on the plan. You can submit a comment of Gov. Cuomo’s draft online here, or you can write a letter to: John B. Rhodes, Chair, NYS Energy Planning Board / NYSERDA / 17 Columbia Circle / Albany, NY 12203. Also, this infographic is just way too cool to not pass along.

The video below features some comments by the speakers after the presentation was over.

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