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Innovative program can create jobs and clean energy

The Western New York chapters of the Sierra Club and the United Steel Workers have joined to propose a demonstration project that offers Western New York clean energy and good jobs. The worldwide name for it is Feed-in-Tariff, or FIT.

The New York Power Authority would offer 20-year contracts to individuals, communities and corporations to buy, at a reasonable, fixed rate, the excess of wind or solar energy fed back into the grid after the producers' own needs are met.

With that kind of contract in hand, banks are willing to loan money to pay for installation of wind turbines or solar panels. The loan is repaid as the borrowers generate clean energy. Installation expense has been a big hang-up in getting clean energy infrastructure put into place.

The clincher on the deal is that installation of these clean energy systems promises jobs -- hundreds of jobs.

A perfect storm has been brewing here. Our skies are filling with global warming gases. Our demands for energy rise. We continue to burn fossil fuels. The polar ice caps are melting and our weather has gone wild. The "Fracking Monster's" solution promises energy but threatens to chew up our countryside and pollute our fresh water. In the meantime, industry fails to provide enough jobs to support our people.

The recent appointment of John R. Koelmel as chairman of the New York Power Authority couldn't have come at a better time. A Western New York native and chief executive officer of First Niagara Bank, Koelmel can be the key to Western New York's surviving this storm. He is a banker, so he knows the nuts and bolts of financing and commerce. He is now also in charge of one of the largest energy-producing and distributing entities in the world, which includes Western New York's own Niagara Falls and thousands of miles of energy-distributing power lines.

If Koelmel would bring together Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, chairman of the State Senate Committee on the Environment, and Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, that triumvirate of regional power could make the FIT concept work for us.

It has worked all over the world, and most notably for our neighbor Ontario, where it has created 20,000 jobs and shut down most of the coal-burning power plants. In Germany over 10 years, FIT has created more than 300,000 jobs as the nation closes down its nuclear industry.

Consider getting in touch with these gentlemen by letter, phone, email or in person and talking to them about Feed-in-Tariff. Take a look on the Internet at "CLEAN-FIT programs: Clean Local Energy Accessible Now -- Feed-in-Tariff." Ask them to look at it, too, and bring clean energy and good jobs to Western New York.

Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group.