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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.

Alexandra Chang, technology writing and social media

Alexandra Chang visited my class yesterday to talk about using social media effectively. There certainly was some valuable tips; for instance, she went over how to find story ideas through following companies on LinkedIn. She was insightful and encouraging, especially when explaining how quickly Twitter followers can come and go–so be ready!

What I found more interesting, however, was our personal conversation after class. My professor pointed out to her before class that I, too, left San Francisco’s warm embrace for Ithaca’s frozen gorges. I think I started crushing on Alexandra the second I read this paragraph of that SanFran ode:

I’ve never wanted to move out of San Francisco. It’s just sort of happened. For now, I’ll just have to settle with living vicariously through you, all the while looking forward to coming back again one day.

My sentiments precisely. And, even more, she reports on technology! My first love! As with many Millennials, I grew up with a computer in my room. Sure, plenty of that time was spent playing floppy disk games (or Backyard Baseball or Starcraft, depending on the year), but the point remains: here was an accomplished journalist who knows where I’m coming from and the culture I’m used to, giving MY class a lesson. I wanted/needed to get her advice.

First, she told me that technology was the way to go. The tech boom has forced media outlets to hire tech reporters. The catch that the media outlets are facing, unfortunately, is that math-y tech-y people generally do not write well, and reporters generally despise math. So, yea. Learn to code. Second, Alexandra told me that living in San Francisco is getting expensive. I can relate; my hometown of Palo Alto is no place for light wallets. Budgeting is going to be a priority very soon.

We finished by lamenting Ithaca’s temperature and remote location. Indeed, I advised her to invest in a heat lamp. Happy blogging.

Would Cloud Computing help IPD?

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that Governor Cuomo wanted a $10 million initiative to create a statewide cloud database, specifically to help local police departments combat crime. Three days later, he wrote the initiative into the proposed budget. Here’s what it says (on the bottom of page 67):

New York State Protection Cloud. Accurate and timely information is at the core of today’s effective policing, and up-to-date technology tools are needed to deliver that information efficiently. Over the next three years, the State will invest $10 million in shared technology for State and local law enforcement. By making a single solution available to all law enforcement agencies, the State will increase local crime-fighting capabilities, eliminate barriers to effective Public Safety information sharing, and support coordinated responses across jurisdictions. As local law enforcement agencies join the system over the next four years, savings to these participating agencies are expected to grow to $12 million annually.

Data-sharing technology isn’t anything incredibly new in the technology world, so it would make sense for governments of all sizes to find ways to utilize cloud computing. But there are serious questions to consider after the last major government website, Healthcare.gov, cost tax payers perhaps 100 times the amount it should’ve. And on top of that, have Julian Assange and Edward Snowden not shown clearly how suddenly lots of sensitive government information can be shared with the world? Indeed, the activist group Anonymous  police databases in at least five freaking states.

So, we know information stored online is not safe. Ever. What we don’t know yet, conclusively, is how much a cloud database would reduce crime. I would suspect three types of areas would benefit: remote upstate towns, underfunded police departments (metropolitan or otherwise), and college towns.

The Ithaca Police Department falls under that last category. Over 30 thousand students migrate seasonally in and out of the town, with perhaps 5 thousand new students coming every year. With that kind of turnover, any organization would desire a heads up of pertinent individuals.

So maybe it’s a good idea… but not yet. Cloud computing lacks security; until that changes, why put sensitive information anywhere but a paper file?