Green rules! Everywhere you turn, “green” initiatives are sprouting.
Texas Instruments’ newest plant near Dallas was built using “green” building principles – big water pipes with fewer elbows, for example, which permit smaller, energy-saving pumps; electric-eye faucets that respond to hand motion; two stories instead of three. This saved 30 percent in construction expenses over past projects and is expected to cut energy costs by 20 percent and water usage by 35 percent.
The Navy is planning a power plant in the Indian Ocean that will create electricity by combining warm surface waters and cold deep waters in a process called ocean thermal energy conversion.
The chairman of the Chicago Climate Exchange hands out green-trimmed business cards as he promotes trading the latest commodity: companies buying and selling allowances to emit greenhouse gases.
In the Town of Babylon, we buy hybrid cars for our entire passenger vehicle fleet and are joining builders and housing advocates to create a model home in Wyandanch that uses as close to zero electricity from the Long Island Power Authority as possible.
We would do well to remember, though, that “green” also means inexperienced. The marketplace ultimately will claim many of the green products and technologies that will not work well enough or will prove to be too expensive for the savings they produce.
Cautionary tales abound. At a meeting of the Babylon Rotary Club earlier this year, a member extolled the benefits of his newly retrofitted energy-efficient home. But one month later, after he had spent $80,000 on solar panels, soy-based foam insulation and radiant-heating floors, his electric bill was larger this summer than last. The home’s geothermal system, which is supposed to work off ground temperature differentials to heat in the winter and cool in the summer, isn’t working and the contractor refuses to correct it.
The greening of America cannot avoid the blight of the delinquent contractor or, more critically, the pitfalls of the untested product. Therefore, when we talk about “going green” we need some rules.
Green Rule No. 1 should be to seek the greatest benefit at the lowest cost. Experience across the country has shown that return on investment is greater for conservation initiatives than for developing new sources of energy supply.
LIPA’s proposal to build 40 windmills off the South Shore – a new source of power – is controversial partly because some experts think it will give little benefit for its great costs.
There are two initiatives, how-ever, that would meet the criteria for Rule No. 1.
First and foremost is the repowering of LIPA’s inefficient power plants. If we equip these plants with new technology so they meet today’s environmental standards, we could almost double Long Island’s current energy capacity.
Burning far less fuel, these repowered plants would reduce reliance on fossil fuels and dramatically lessen the toxins spewing into our air, affecting our health and contributing to global warming.
LIPA has not made repowering a priority, saying that customer demand will not allow these plants to go off-line for the upgrades. But that is no longer a good excuse, with the new Neptune cable slated to deliver up to 660 megawatts from New Jersey starting next year.
We need to know the comparative cost-efficiency of the windmill proposal versus repowering existing power plants. LIPA should commission an independent engineering company to provide hard numbers. This company should make its methodology and results public. For good measure, LIPA should reveal all the financial details of the proposed offshore wind plant.
If this 140-megawatt plant costs at least $475 million to build – based on figures for comparable plants built in the United Kingdom and Germany – repowering KeySpan’s plants is likely to be cheaper. The math works out to $3.46 million per megawatt for the new windmills, versus an estimated $1 million per megawatt for upgrading the power plants (this figure from a former Long Island Lighting Co. executive, Matthew Cordaro).
The second initiative that meets our rule would be to move increasingly toward “green” buildings of the sort that Texas Instruments used in its new factory in Richardson, Texas. More than 40 percent of the energy we use goes into our homes and workplaces, and our nation is on the cusp of a huge building boom.
Extrapolating from a study by the Brookings Institution, a staggering 1.5 billion square feet of commercial and residential space will have to be built or reconstructed in the next 25 years on Long Island, where 70 percent of the housing stock is more than 35 years old.
How we create this new space will do much to determine whether we are successful in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and confronting the threat of global warming.
By Steven Bellone, Babylon Town supervisor.
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