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Promises and Pitfalls in the 2014 NYS Energy Plan

Under a state law passed in 2009, the New York energy planning board has to put out a energy planning process and complete a State Energy Plan every four years. The goal of the planning process is to map the State’s energy future by committing to energy efficiency through new technologies, while ensuring an adequate supply of power for the State.

Last month, Governor Cuomo and the New York State Energy Planning Board Members released a draft State Energy Plan for 2014. The plan drew praise for it’s goals to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gases emissions, expand green energy technology, and give customers more control over their energy use. However, the plan also drew criticism from environmental groups primarily because of the state’s desire to expand access to natural gas in the “near-term.”

The plan identifies 15 energy-related initiatives for the state to pursue while reaffirming New York’s goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Part of this roadmap includes securing the infrastructure (initiative 8) and expanding access to natural gas (initiative 9). In fact, the Energy Plan goes as far as to state that “natural gas delivery infrastructure is the secure backbone of the energy system, allowing consumers to easily connect to efficient, affordable, reliable, and increasingly clean energy sources.”

While the plan encourages natural gas consumption, it also subtly alludes to the potential issues associated with hydraulic fracking. The plan calls for the state to require gas companies to “identify and repair (gas) leaks of significant magnitude” and to “limit methane emissions from natural gas compressor stations on intrastate pipelines.” Methane, a greenhouse gas, is released from natural gas wells during the drilling process. A recent study published in the Proceeding of Natural Academy of Sciences found that the amount of methane released during natural gas production could be 50% higher than previously estimated from the Environmental Protection Association. These findings would mean that natural gas provides NO greenhouse gas emission advantage over coal – in other words, the state’s plan to rely on natural gas contradicts the state’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 80%.

While it is commendable that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a major goal of the draft plan, but many environmental organizations have raised concerns, including:

  • The plan is vague about details and the policies needed to reach the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.
  • Nuclear power is lauded in the plan as a way to reduce greenhouse gases, which aside from being problematic, is also unrealistic considering that several of New York’s power plants are closing because they cannot compete in the electricity market. No new nuclear projects are currently proposed for the state.
  • The plan hopes to compensate for closing nuclear power plants by transitioning to natural gas, which again is contrary to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Money will be put towards increasing and supporting the infrastructure needed for increased natural gas consumption, but this money should instead be used to help develop clean, renewable energies such as solar and wind.

The State Energy Planning Board is seeking public comments on the 2014 Draft State Energy Plan. The comment period has been extended through April 30, 2014. There is also a schedule of public hearings available online, with two dates in early March. Make sure to have your opinion be heard!

Antonia Florio received her Ph.D. in Comparative Biology at the American Museum of Natural History, and now works as the Urban Barcode Project Manager at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center.

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