Smart energy plan will chart our future - The Buffalo News
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Smart energy plan will chart our future

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Energy Planning Board released the Draft New York State Energy Plan. The stated purpose of the plan is “to set forth a vision for New York’s energy future that connects a vibrant public sector market with communities and individual customers to create a dynamic clean energy economy.”

The plan’s website – – says, “New York envisions a flexible and clean energy system that empowers communities and customers to receive the reliability and affordability that they value.” Public comments close on April 30.

This plan is important because it creates a blueprint for investment by the private and public sector that will shape our energy sources, use, infrastructure and institutional framework for generations to come.

This affects each of us in ways that we may only be beginning to realize. It will impact energy prices for consumers. It will help to define the profitability of various energy strategies. It will establish how we create, distribute and use energy. It will effect growth, development and, most importantly in this time of rapid climate change, how economic and energy policies will impact our environment and natural resources.

The plan addresses issues based on 13 outlined initiatives:

• Realigning energy-efficiency strategies with markets.

• Enabling new energy business models.

• Establishing and implementing building codes and standards.

• Establishing a $1 billion Green Bank to “unlock and mobilize private sector capital.”

• Coordinating renewable energy policies and strategies.

• Updating and modernizing delivery systems and infrastructure.

• Supporting community-based energy planning.

• Accelerating security on critical infrastructure.

• Reducing reliance on petroleum-based heating products.

• Encouraging more customer choices and control of energy usage.

• Providing improved information and access to energy data.

• Increasing transportation alternatives.

• Bringing innovative information technology to transportation system users.

The state held six public hearings, including one in Buffalo, at which speakers identified several important issues. There has been emphatic concern from citizen groups that are opposed to high-volume hydraulic fracturing. While the plan does not directly focus on fracking, many speakers have said they think the plan is a blueprint for the creation of more natural gas use and infrastructure.

An analysis released by AGREE New York (Alliance for a Green Economy), titled “More Gas than Teeth: Problems with the NYS Energy Plan,” says the “document is not a plan, but rather relies on forecasts made in the absence of planning. These forecasts accept a dismal baseline of anemic growth in renewable energy while predicting major growth in natural gas. Instead of relying on passive forecasts, Governor Cuomo’s energy plan should proactively chart a course for the future, bucking trends as necessary with aggressive targets for renewable energy that will free New York of its addiction to fossil fuels.”

According to AGREE, one portion of the draft plan forecasts that natural gas produced in New York will “conservatively” triple by 2030 with the lifting of the state’s current moratorium on fracking. AGREE also says the draft plan only commits to measuring the reduction on one greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. “This ignores the significant impact of methane, the primary component of fracked gas.” According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recently released a devastating analysis of coming climate changes, methane is 34 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 100 years.

Supporters of non-fossil-fuel-based renewables, such as wind and solar development, point out that the plan may not be aggressive enough, in the context of both climate change and opportunities to move away from fossil-fuel dependency.

Lynda Schneekloth, chairwoman of Sierra Club Niagara Group, cites a report by Stanford University scientist Mark Jacobson published in the journal Energy Policy last year.

“There can be a clear path to making New York 100 percent renewable within a short time frame such as outlined in the Jacobson plan,” Schneekloth said. “A New York State Energy Plan based on renewables would produce jobs, stabilize electricity prices, reduce energy demand, greatly improve the health of New York State citizens and stop contributing to global climate destabilization. We would like New York State to address the goals and strategies of the Jacobson plan, which are conspicuously absent from the New York State Energy Draft.”

But Don Duggan-Haas, director of Teacher Programming at the Paleontological Research Institution based in Ithaca, said the state’s energy plan has a lot of good things in it. He notes that it promotes reduced consumption and conservation.

“All large-scale energy production and use is bad for the environment. The single most important thing that can be done to reduce environmental harm is to use less energy. Many of the things that reduce consumption also reduce cost, so it is a win-win.”

A model for promoting many of the strategies outlined in the draft plan is the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. President and CEO Matthew Enstice and his team are leading the way toward creating economic and community-building strategies that work. The campus is at the center of an energy-intensive, high-tech development project. The project works with downtown neighborhoods, high-profile partners and helps to coordinate high-stakes infrastructure development. This all represents thousands of current and future jobs, transportation initiatives, energy use and distribution, and the quality of life of the surrounding Fruit Belt and Allentown neighborhoods.

How this is all coordinated, achieved and progresses matters. The Medical Campus and its innovative leaders are at the core of how the Buffalo of tomorrow will be characterized.

“We are building a model for similar urban energy hubs throughout New York,” Enstice said. “We are right now focused on energy-efficiency strategies and building relationships that benefit our partners, including the community, the city, the region.”

The Medical Campus has 11 partners, including Kaleida Health, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the University at Buffalo.

“Industry partners are key to making our vision a reality. It was the leadership of National Grid at the highest level that committed to make our campus and community the energy and utility model of the future,” Enstice said. “Because of our strong relationship with National Grid, we have been able to attract industry partners like General Electric, Toshiba, U&S Services and others to help work on integrating efficiency, modernizing the grid, transportation management and renewable energy opportunities.”

One of the most important parts of the energy strategy is the “energize BNMC” collaboration with National Grid, Terrapin Bright Green, the Global Energy Institute and the UB Power Center for Utility Explorations, which are providing opportunities for research and innovation in green infrastructure development. This includes electric vehicle power stations, significant attention to alternative transportation, including bike-friendly amenities, and a smart-home energy retrofit that will demonstrate how a turn-of-the-century home can be brought to modern standards. The campus is also working with Goodwill Industries and has created a “Green Team” to promote workforce development.

A recent award formed through a public/private partnership to evaluate the electric grid of the Medical Campus and the surrounding neighborhoods is one focus.

“We need to make sure that the grid meets the needs of our high-tech urban business campus and neighborhoods, is modern, high-quality, reliable and resilient. Our industry partnerships are making a huge difference,” Enstice said.

In addition, the campus has onsite advanced power system elements, including photovoltaic arrays, wind generation and energy storage systems.

“We think that these boost local economic development by creating a more attractive and inviting place, lowering costs for potential tenants and creating a place where companies will want to locate,” he said.

Efficient and cost-effective transportation strategies, including bike and car sharing, and working with employees and partners of the campus on public transportation issues, are fundamental to the success of the Medical Campus.

“We have a potential of 17,000 people working and going to school on the BNMC campus in the next few years. We have to find a way to efficiently get them to and from downtown,” Enstice said. “Working with local and state agencies, the NFTA and Go Bike Buffalo are critical to our being able to ensure that we have a workable campus that people can travel to and from and move around on.”

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is a modern, energy-efficient, business- and community-based model for economic development that should inform both the pragmatics of the state’s energy plan and become a positive flag waver for investment, development, innovation and a common-sense approach to building critical infrastructure.

The future of New York begins with a good energy plan for the state. Attention to the informed comments and critiques of the plan can only make it better.

Jay Burney, a naturalist, writer and conservation activist, founded the Learning Sustainability Campaign and is chairman of Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve.

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