Last Thursday, President Obama avowed in his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech that “new energy can power our future.” While his address had a little something for the coal and natural gas industries, overall, the president recommitted himself to the battle against climate change. Several years ago, with the help of a rebate from our local utility, my wife and I purchased a solar electric system to help power our Long Island home. It was the start of our own personal campaign to break our dependence on carbon-based fuels (not just the imported kind).
Since July 2006, the 18-panel rooftop system has produced approximately 20,000 kilowatt hours. It has consistently met just over half of our annual electricity demand. Truth be told, if we went with a slightly larger system and were even more energy efficient, we could meet close to three-quarters of our yearly electricity consumption. Even then, my home wouldn’t hold a candle to that of my colleague and renowned renewable energy advocate Gordian Raacke, whose solar panels produce enough juice to meet all of his home’s electricity demand and then some. His photovoltaic array generates an excess amount of electricity over the course of the year and the local utility, the Long Island Power Authority, actually ends up cutting him a check.
But Raacke isn’t satisfied with meeting 100 percent of his Long Island home’s electricity needs through sustainable energy. He, along with many other clean energy advocates (including myself), envisions a day when all of Long Island will meet its demand for electricity solely through renewables and energy efficiency.
Raacke’s group, Renewable Energy Long Island, commissioned a first-of-its-kind study by Synapse Energy Economics to take a closer look. In short, the recently released study, titled the Long Island Clean Electricity Vision (CEV), found that it was technically and economically feasible.
The CEV study is centered entirely on technologies that are commercially available today. “We now have everything we need to make the transition from dirty and dangerous fossil fuels to a clean, and renewable electricity supply,” says Raacke. “This transformation of our energy supply is now both achievable and affordable, and presents a tremendous opportunity and challenge to all of us – [New York] Governor Cuomo, elected officials, our utility, municipalities, the private sector and every Long Islander.”
In a nutshell, the study’s main findings are:
- Using cautious assumptions, it appears technically feasible that renewable energy sources can supply all residential electricity needs by 2020.
- By 2030 all of Long Island could have a 100 percent renewable and zero-carbon electricity supply.
- Aggressive energy efficiency efforts, large scale wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies would need to be built to replace old, inefficient fossil-fueled power plants.
- During times when not enough renewable energy is available to meet electricity demand, some existing fossil-fueled power generation would be used to meet demand, but renewable energy credits would be purchased to offset their emissions.
To be sure, other regions, cities and communities in the US and beyond are going 100 percent renewable. An even greater reliance on renewables and energy efficiency has many environmental and public health benefits ranging from the well-known (i.e. improved air quality) to the less-recognized (i.e. reduced strain on water resources and aquatic life).
The CEV study’s release could not have been timed any better with Long Island at an “energy crossroads.” Consider the following:
- NY Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to overhaul the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and realign it to its original mission,
- PSEG is set to take over the management of the electric grid on Long Island in 2014 (replacing National Grid in that role),
- National Grid’s aging power plants are facing an uncertain future including retirement for at least two facilities, and
- New generation, transmission and energy storage proposals are under consideration by LIPA’s board of trustees, and an announcement, albeit delayed, is expected soon.
Many of Long Island and New York State’s environmental leaders, armed with this report, will be working together in the months and years ahead to achieve the end goal. Adrienne Esposito is one of those leaders. “LIPA and state leaders have verbally supported renewable energy for a decade, now is the time to put those words into action,” says Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Large scale renewables need to be a real part of our energy generation and this study shows we can do that. Now, we need the Governor to make it happen.”
The global climate group 350.org has also weighed in on the unprecedented study. 350.org executive director May Boeve commented: “Long Island can be at the forefront of this movement, and be a shining example to the world.” The study definitely has the potential to be a model for other communities and regions across the US.
That’s quite a challenge. As a homeowner and an advocate for clean energy, I'll continue to do my part. And I'm certain that my fellow Long Islanders will be working to become part of the region’s new vision for the future. A future powered by new (renewable) energy.