By 2019, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation hopes to have a new plan in place for meeting the state’s goal of 100% renewable energy and zero net greenhouse gas emissions. (Published Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014)
The New York City subway, as crowded and sometimes stinky as it is, is often the model for transportation systems the world over. It also is a good indicator of the NYC that could ultimately face an apocalyptic energy future with no realistic way to avert it.
The long-term clean energy program designed to lead the transit system into the future and leave the city on solid ground is called 2050x, and it comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio has chosen not to use the word “renewable” in campaign speeches for this year’s mayoral race.
An alternative economy model and roadmap, to which New York City — a city that depends on fossil fuels on a daily basis — might eventually turn, currently is more commonly known as “silver” and “white” energy. It is an alternative to “green,” which currently refers to the renewable-energy sector, as well as to “silver,” which refers to the coal-free future of the city’s electric grid.
It is a model for how to avoid disaster, in the conventional sense of that term, that already exists in existing self-contained cities and metropolitan areas all around the world.
“We as humans are fundamentally good at responding to a crisis, however localized that crisis may be,” said Assistant Prof. Bhaskar Sunkara of the University of Cambridge. “No single crisis is going to be able to stand up, and the natural diversity of the world’s energy systems is actually there to keep the world from falling off a cliff.”
What you need to know:
Why 100% renewable energy?
If cities become the new pipelines for the future of energy, one of the top choices of municipal leaders is choosing 100% renewable energy. This is a way to stay rooted in the world’s changing energy and climate future, while assuring a safe and sound future for your city. This is exactly what Mayor de Blasio has chosen to do for New York City, though not with a clear idea of how. He could use “silver” energy as a way to announce he wants to dramatically reduce emissions, or alternatively, he could choose to highlight the importance of coal-free energy and its role in addressing climate change without putting up a fight over definitions.
“Coal is a really, really bad option” to address climate change, said Aaron Britton, the deputy general manager at Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, one of the largest coal-fired power companies in the country.
“For power developers, coal is literally the worst alternative,” he said. It is a particularly contentious subject for those who want to replace coal plants with solar and wind farms, which when delivered from out of state involve higher price tags and coal and environmental risks.
There is nothing else like it.
“The exciting thing about 100% renewable energy and the white power model is there’s really no impediment to the potential for many different alternatives,” said Bert Stowe, an engineering professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who led a study on coal power alternatives.
What are a few best practices?
Before creating cities of the future, politicians and urban planners should look to what worked for cities in the past. One of the many best practices that have shown promise in the past is the Integrated Resource Plan, Stowe said.
“I think there’s no one secret sauce. But as an institutional foundation for other things I think the IRP is definitely something to be looked at,” he said.
The IRP is a technical document that documents all current energy resources, power sources and direct emissions.
What is an IRP?
It used to be that everyone just said coal was bad for the environment because of the damage to land and water. It wasn’t until the IRP was introduced that those words were accompanied by specific information and an explanation of how the land, air and water were impacted by coal plants.
How will 2050x work?
If Mayor de Blasio decides he wants to commit New York City to coal-free energy, this year he could essentially expand his 45% renewable energy goal in 2014 to 100% renewable energy by 2050. He could, however, only do this through one of two things:
A) He could be accused of “greenwashing” and try to deceive New Yorkers into thinking he’s going to move the world toward a truly sustainable future, when in fact he is