The Real Plan For a Renewable Energy Future For New York
Activist, actor and Catskill Mountainkeeper board member Mark Ruffalo has spearheaded the effort to create a real plan for a renewable energy future for New York State. He, along with Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Josh Fox, put together a team of researchers headed by Stanford University Professor Mark Z. Jacobson (and 2012 Mountainkeeper Barnfest keynote speaker) to tackle the challenge. The result is the groundbreaking report released today, entitled “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water and Sunlight“.
Jacobson co-authored the report with Cornell University Professor of Engineering, Anthony Ingraffea, Cornell Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Robert W. Howarth, and University of California at Davis scientist Mark Delucchi, among others. Their findings are published in the journal Energy Policy.
The 64 page report crunches the numbers needed for wind, water and sunlight (WWS) to meet New York’s power needs by 2030 and shows us that the technology exists now to implement the plan and that it is economically viable to do so. The real question is whether our state leaders have the political wherewithal to make this happen. According to the study, if New York switched to WWS, air pollution–related deaths would decline by about 4,000 annually and the state would save about $33 billion – 3 percent of the state’s gross domestic product – in related health costs every year. That savings alone would pay for the new power infrastructure needed within about 17 years, or about 10 years if annual electricity sales are accounted for. The study also estimates that resultant emissions decreases would reduce 2050 U.S. climate change costs – such as coastal erosion and extreme weather damage – by about $3.2 billion per year.
Currently, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal and gas. Under the plan that Jacobson and his fellow researchers advance, 40 percent of the state’s energy would come from local wind power, 38 percent from local solar and the remainder from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and wave energy.
Journalist Stacy Clark wrote an extensive article featured in today’s Huffington Post about how Mark and Josh made this happen and what the implications of the study are:
Meet and Greet
“Just over two years ago, on the southeast side of San Francisco, near the 101 freeway, RaboBank’s Executive VP, Marco Krapels, who manages its Capital Markets and Renewable Energy Finance Division, hosted a star-studded soirée at which he introduced the actor-activist Mark Ruffalo, Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox and Jacobson to renewable energy investors, social media influencers and well-connected environmental leaders. Many on the guest list were already aware of Ruffalo’s efforts to ban natural gas fracking in New York state and Fox’s work to expose the toxic hazards of natural gas-drilling. Guests had also come to learn of Jacobson’s Scientific American article — published a year earlier — which proposed that “a large-scale wind, water and solar energy system can reliably supply the world’s needs.” In that paper, Jacobson added, “the obstacles [to clean energy] are primarily political, not technical.” Many attending guests had watched Jacobson’s February, 2010 TED Talks debate performance, where he presented a compelling case in favor of a 100 percent renewable U.S. energy plan.
Attention quickly focused on the Stanford brainiac, who offered the audience a refreshingly objective examination of his work. “Mathematics can be used to estimate the likely outcome of a new idea,” Jacobson began. He explained that his team was busy researching U.S. energy usage from the point of exploration all the way through to the point of consumption. In doing so, they kept account of the “external” costs of each energy source. The respective costs and benefits of each technology became a mathematical profile of sorts and what they found was remarkable: “When you properly factor in the economic costs of natural gas and other fossil fuels — their burden on the environment, human health and the economy — the benefits of renewable electricity are not only indisputable, but they’re financially compelling.” Jacobson’s cocktail conversation made an impression as industry moguls and tech savvy pioneers exchanged attentive nods.
Ruffalo spoke of his family’s move to upstate New York and the unwelcome realization that the region’s groundwater was threatened by the industrial practice of fracturing bedrock to extract natural gas. He described the grassroots campaign that ensued to end the industrial operations and the ongoing battle to permanently ban the practice statewide (a two-year moratorium on natural gas fracking in New York was recently announced by the NY legislature and awaits Senate approval). As New York’s electricity is generated almost exclusively by coal and natural gas, alternative fuel sources would necessarily be required should New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ultimately decide to ban fracking operations permanently.”