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Spitzer sets out energy plan to cut use and raise renewable sources

Gov. Eliot Spitzer unveiled a new energy strategy yesterday that relies on reducing the state’s energy use by 15 percent by 2015, investing $300 million in renewable and “clean” power projects and increasing supply by enacting a law to expedite power-plant siting.

Simultaneously, the state gave a big boost to wind power by awarding performance-based grants to nine new “wind farms,” including three in Steuben County in western New York and one in Herkimer County in the north-central section of the state.

These sites, which state officials predict will open next year, will significantly increase the state’s use of wind. There are now just four large-scale wind power sites that supply power to the electricity grid, state officials said.

The Democratic governor delivered his plan just days before Earth Day and, at first blush, seemed to please many sides in the energy debate. Environmentalists hailed Spitzer’s call for conservation and more renewable energy. Energy lobbyists said they’re encouraged that the governor apparently wants to break the gridlock on power-plant siting – an issue that has languished for four years.

“Clearly, he’s tried to appease a lot of constituencies,” said Gavin Donohue, head of the Independent Power Producers of New York. He called it a “balanced” approach.

“The conservation and clean-energy (initiatives) will resonate with the public,” Donohue said, “and at the same time, he recognizes that energy generation, reliability and transmission are important.”

Highlights of the plan include:

– Reduce electricity consumption by 15 percent by 2015 – what Spitzer calls the “most aggressive target in the nation” – by strengthening efficiency standards, rewriting laws that discourage utilities from conserving energy, and committing state government facilities to use wind and other “clean” energy sources.

– This part of the plan is likely to meet the most skepticism. The New York Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s electricity grid, has projected a 1.2 percent annual growth in electricity demand. Spitzer wants to not only stifle that trend but actually reverse it.

– Increase supply by enacting a law to expedite sites for new power plants. The law, known as Article 10, expired in 2003 and Gov. George Pataki and legislators were never able to agree on how to renew it – with environmental and energy groups sparring over various proposals. Because of that, just a small amount of power supply has been added to the grid while demand has climbed.

– This idea will hinge largely on how Spitzer structures a bill to accomplish it.

– Allocate $295 million for 21 contracts for “clean,” renewable power projects – especially wind. The governor estimated the state incentives could attract about $1.4 billion in private investment and that new sites could be ready to operate by the end of next year.

– Notably, the Democrat did not promote the use of ethanol as an automobile fuel – a departure from his Republican predecessor, Pataki, who had encouraged the production and use of the corn-based additive.

– “Nowhere is the need for a creative new approach more apparent than in our energy sector,” Spitzer said in a speech to a business group in Manhattan, according to a copy provided by his office. “We have some of the highest electricity costs in the nation and our thinking on energy policy is as outmoded as our aging power plants. But we can make real progress toward economic and environmental goals with a comprehensive program that focuses on energy efficiency and conservation and investment in new technology.”

The governor said his plan would reduce costs and pollution.

“The result will be lower energy bills, a cleaner environment that addresses climate change and thousands of new jobs fueled by a new industry born from clean power,” Spitzer said. “I want to be clear that this clean energy strategy, as critical as it is, represents only part of our broader energy policy. There are several additional actions we must take to increase investment in our energy infrastructure – including a focus on investment in transmission and gas supply – that will help drive down New Yorkers’ energy bills.”

Under Pataki, New York adopted a “Renewable Portfolio Standard” that requires the state to be getting 24 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2013. Currently, about 19 percent comes from renewables, almost all hydropower.

That has spurred the interest in wind power. Besides the nine projects awarded grants, at least 30 more have been proposed to the NYISO.

“This is a big boost for the (wind) sector and, frankly, something New York needs to do to meet the” renewable energy goals, said Jason Babbie of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Some communities, however, have balked at the prospect of hosting large-scale windmills. Opponents say they are noisy, harmful to birds and a blight on the landscape.

By Yancey Roy
Albany news Service


20 April 2007