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Energy report offers more hot air than significant solutions  

Government, I’m delighted to find, can still make us think.

On the first page of Lt. Gov. David Paterson’s landmark report released Monday concerning the future of renewable energy in New York and how best to maximize it, this jumps out at us:

“New York is the fourteenth windiest state in the country. …”

Admittedly my reaction to this unexpected nugget says more about how my mind works than our state’s standing. I had an immediate flash to novelist Erik Larson, who tells us in “Devil in the White City” that Chicago got its designation as the Windy City because of blustering politicians.

So my next thought, naturally, was how come New York doesn’t rank higher.

I suppose what I’m suggesting is that despite its thoroughly green and earnest appearance, its desirable goals and carefully considered arguments, the 33-page report, “Clean, Secure Energy and Economic Growth: A Commitment to Renewable Energy and Enhanced Energy Independence,” is hard to take with a totally straight face.

It prompts a cynical response because it is much ado about the margins, and doesn’t begin to tackle – nor was it supposed to – our mainstream energy needs in this state.

On top of that, I would argue that as a report, it is more of a public relations document advocating for solar power, wind power, biomass power and others, and not a realistic cost-benefit assessment of what we are likely to get, when and, especially, at what cost. I would add another line to the spread sheet and ask who is paying that cost.

I would further argue you and I as rate payers, in our monthly bills, are already footing the cost for the giveaways and incentives for wind farm entrepreneurs and other renewables adventurers. The Paterson report recommends that you and I cough up even more out-of-pocket cash for these incentives.

We’ve all heard over and over that the high cost of energy in New York is driving away business, not to mention population. Not the lack of energy, mind you, but the high cost. Now, granted, we’re bound to eventually have a shortage if we don’t begin to seriously address the need for new conventional fuel utilities.

One of the dirty little secrets of renewable energy sources is that every one of them, to varying degrees, will drive the cost of energy up, not down. For you and me, and for business. That would be the real price for less reliance on foreign oil and fossil fuels generally, and for shrinking the carbon footprint that’s turning our planet into a greenhouse.

I, for one, am willing to pay that price. Our household already uses the renewables option from our utility provider, and I see everything right with the state plunging ahead with investment incentives for and solar, particularly. But no discussion of what we’re doing should be complete without the numbers – the money involved – and that is where renewables advocates begin to mumble.

“While renewable energy technologies can be more expensive than conventional sources in the first instance, the environmental, economic growth and public health benefits from their use justify the public investment,” the Paterson report states flat-out.

would argue that this statement should be viewed as a working hypothesis, and doesn’t deserve yet to be considered a proven fact. How expensive is too expensive? Which conventional sources? Some are far more polluting than others, for example.

That quote from the report shows us the zeal of the alternative energies movement. With that zeal comes a touch of arrogance, because if you read through the Paterson report recommendations, there are thinly veiled justifications for running roughshod over local zoning and the opinions of those who actually have to live with solar panels, wind turbines or whatever. “The greater good” argument is just beneath the surface, and that makes me very nervous.

Until New York once again takes nuclear power seriously, marginal alternative energy sources are hard to get excited about. When the state gets serious about nuclear energy, then we can all get serious.

Worldwide, nuclear energy is a primary source of electricity. It is safe, reliable technology that is cheaper than anything but massive hydropower, and protects both the environment and public health.

Of course, politically, a new nuclear power plant is a tough sell in some neighborhoods. But ask Oswego, which has two of them, if there aren’t financial benefits. If certain locales would kill for a state prison, I suspect they could be talked into a nuke plant.

Don’t shudder at the thought, because it is already here. The three nuclear power plants in New York state, including Indian Point, are responsible for producing 15 percent to 20 percent of the state’s electricity right now, and without nuclear power we’d have brownouts.

And if we really want to invest in the mainstream energy needs of New York, it should include right at the top of the list, clean coal research. The technology isn’t there yet, but America’s supply is virtually bottomless, and doesn’t blow hot and cold.

By Fred LeBrun

Times Union

26 February 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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