solutions: Terrence Reilly of Empire Clean Energy.
Ball Of Energy
net metering could save the world (and save New York state
a lot of money)
some numbers: New York state’s total peak-energy demand is
39,000 megawatts for a state that is roughly 54,000 square
miles in size. If solar panels covered approximately 0.75
percent of that land, or 4,050 square miles, the state could
draw all of its energy needs from the sun. And not one piece
of coal would need to be burned, nor one atom of uranium exploded.
draws a round of applause from the solar-industry insiders
gathered at the Crowne Plaza in Albany for the second statewide
convention of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.
Dr. Richard Perez, a research professor at the University
at Albany, stands at the podium and lets the numbers settle
in. Then he continues: There is not enough fossil fuel, nor
uranium, in the planet to contest the sun’s ability to provide
a relatively unending energy supply, an energy supply that
is the apotheosis of clean, green energy.
Perez was commissioned by NYSEIA to study the impacts of solar
energy on the modern-day power grid, focusing primarily on
the practice known as net metering.
Net metering allows people who have solar systems to use the
utility grid as a battery. But it isn’t exactly selling electricity
to the grid, says Tom Thompson, president of NYSEIA, it is
“trading electrons, essentially. During those times of the
day when the sun is shining and the system may be producing
more power than the building is using, rather than waste that
power or force the solar owner to invest in battery systems,
the power flows onto the grid.” When this occurs, the solar-system
owner’s meter rolls back.
New York was, once, at the forefront of net metering. In 1997,
the state began exploring the option under then-Gov. George
Pataki. But 10 years is a long time in the world of alternative
energies, and New York has been left in the dust by nearly
every state in the Northeast and many others nationwide.
The current legislation in New York that governs net metering
is seen by advocates of solar power as archaic and dangerously
limiting. In fact, Freeing the Grid, a publication
put out by several solar-energy advocacy groups, gave New
York state a D grade last year in its review of states’ net-metering
policies. Many of our neighbors, including Delaware, Connecticut,
Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, scored significantly
It would be difficult to find someone to contest the ecological
benefits of solar power, or even the beneficial effect on
the industry that net metering incurs. But what Perez found
through his research is that the benefits of solar power and
net metering go far beyond the green considerations—there
are sizable economic benefits as well.
All blackouts are caused by transmissions failures. The power
plants continue to work, it is just that the electricity demand
is too high for the grid to carry the power needed. In 2003,
the massive blackout that left much of the Northeast in the
dark was caused by a power plant that went down in Cleveland.
That forced other plants to replace the lost power, but the
extra load on their transmission lines was too much. The lines
overheated, increasing in weight, drooped into trees, and
shorted out. Within a two-hour period, four lines went down,
and 50 million people went without power.
if we had deployed solar?” Thompson asks. What if solar panels
covered rooftops across the Northeast? “Could we have avoided
The answer, he argues, is yes. Because solar-generated power,
for the most part, is sited at the point of energy consumption,
meaning that it doesn’t travel on the grid, Thompson says,
you are able to reduce the stress on the transmission system.
Less energy flowing over the grid means less stress on the
grid. And on days that are most likely to stress the grid
beyond its limits, such as the sweltering hot day of the 2003
blackout, when air conditioners likely were kicking full-blast,
solar energy is at its most effective.
That bit of common sense was proven by Perez.
Perez used satellite imagery to document the amount of sunlight
falling on the earth’s surface at any given time. He found
that every blackout or rolling blackout in North America for
more than a decade correlated to the optimal days for solar-power
production. Not surprisingly, the hotter the day, the more
stress on the grid, the more power that could be harnessed
from the sun.
Further, according to the research of Perez and others, roughly
$3 billion of solar-power equipment would have prevented the
blackout. The cost of the 2003 outage was about $8 billion.
say solar is expensive? They aren’t thinking about it in the
long term,” Thompson says. “That is why public policy is so
NYSEIA and other solar advocates are pressing hard for Senate
Bill 7171. Sponsored by Sen. Owen Johnson (R-Babylon), the
legislation would increase the opportunities available for
net metering. Currently, the law limits net metering to residences
only, and limits eligibility to systems that produce a maximum10
kilowatts of power, which is a relatively small system—the
kind you would find on the average suburban home. The major
breakthrough on the bill, however, allows for the expansion
of net-metering opportunities to commercial buildings, with
a cap of 2,000 kilowatts, or 2 megawatts.
Hypothetically, this means a corporation like Wal-Mart might
have significant incentive to invest in solar-power systems.
If solar energy reaches price parity with fossil fuels, through
incentives such tax breaks and net-metering credits, it could
be viewed by these larger corporations as a wise business
decision. Imagine Crossgates Mall, that bastion of consumerism,
covered with solar panels. If there were no cap on net metering,
Crossgates conceivably could reduce its month-to-month energy
cost to almost nothing—or, even better for its bottom line,
sell its excess energy back to the grid.
The current atmosphere at the Capitol is very encouraging,
Thompson says. Gov. David Paterson has signaled aggressive
support of the development of solar power. While lieutenant
governor, Paterson chaired the state’s Renewable Energy Task
Force, and in February he put forward a recommendation that
the state develop “eight times more solar photovoltaic energy
generation in New York—over 100 megawatts by 2011.”
A logical ramp up, advocates say, to NYSEIA’s stated goal
of 2,000 megawatts by 2017. It is not an unheard of goal:
California has established a 3,000 megawatt goal; New Jersey
and Maryland both have similar goals. And even at 2,000 megawatts,
the state would be drawing only 19.5 percent of its energy
from the sun.
The bill has been reported out of the Energy Committee and
is on the calendar in the Senate, which means it could be
voted on at any time.
York state allocates $1.7 million for research to determine
the feasibility of carbon sequestration in the state’s geological
the buzz about alternative energies and total independence
from fossil fuels, one moderate step in the fight against
global warming might be to trap those nasty pollutants released
by fossil-fuel-fired power plants and inject them deep into
the ground. And New York is investing $1.7 million to see
if it will work.
In an order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the New York
State Energy Research and Development Authority recently announced
a state-funded research initiative to assess New York’s geological
formations in hopes that they will prove viable for carbon
sequestration, the storage of captured carbon emissions. The
research, funded by a $1.7 million investment from NYSERDA
and an additional $2.3 million in private funding from the
agency’s research partners, aims to locate areas of New York’s
geological substrate suitable for carbon sequestration. These
studies are the first step toward ultimately implementing
the climate-mitigating technology, and reflect the state’s
efforts as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,
a cooperative effort by nine Northeast and Middle Atlantic
states to jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Global Warming theory posits that climate change is caused
by greenhouse gasses, atmospheric pollutants that trap energy
from the sun and cause changes in climate patterns worldwide.
Carbon dioxide is thought to be the greatest contributor to
the greenhouse effect, because CO2 accounts for
almost 90 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. According
to the Energy Information Administration, the United States
currently emits approximately 6 million metric tons of CO2
each year. Of those emissions, approximately 40 percent can
be directly attributed to fossil-fuel-fired power plants.
Geological carbon sequestration is achieved by chemically
capturing carbon at a power plant, or other source, before
it is emitted into the atmosphere. The captured CO2
is then compressed into a dense gas and transported via pipeline
to a suitable site, where it is injected into subsurface geological
formations. The stored carbon will not escape for thousands
According to the “Preliminary Report on Geological Carbon
Sequestration in New York,” released in 2006 by the New York
State Museum, “CO2 occurs in four phases: liquid,
gas, solid, and supercritical fluid. Most geological sequestration
should be done in the supercritical phase, which requires
high pressures and temperatures only found at depths of at
least 2,500 feet.” The state’s best options for geological
sequestration are in deep saline aquifers and depleted oil
and gas reservoirs, which occur primarily in the sedimentary
rocks of central and western New York.
NYSERDA is currently in negotiation with research teams from
Process Energy Solutions, Ecology & Environment, the University
at Buffalo, and Advanced Resources International. According
to NYSERDA spokeswoman Colleen Ryan, the multi-team approach
will enable NYSERDA to efficiently conduct a comprehensive
statewide geological survey for possible storage formations.
Three regional projects will separately examine the geology
of central New York and two sections of western New York,
to determine possible locations for sequestration. A fourth
project, building on a current NYSERDA contract with the geologists
at the state museum, will evaluate shale formations throughout
the state. If shale beds are found to be viable for carbon
storage, it would greatly broaden sequestration opportunities
A variety of viable carbon-capture technologies are currently
available, with varying degrees of effectiveness and infrastructure
expense. According to Ryan, “The current research effort,”
which is expected to take two to three years to complete,
“is focused on storage, not capture. Future research examining
the most efficient and cost-effective capture methods will
be undertaken based on our findings.”
Questions have arisen about the safety of piping pressurized
carbon throughout the state. However, Ryan asserts, “Hundreds
of miles of CO2 piping are already in existence;
safety and leakage are not a concern.” In fact, carbon-capture
and transport technologies have been used in the oil industry
since the mid-1970s. The practice of enhanced oil recovery
essentially uses a subterranean injection of concentrated,
captured CO2 to flush oil out depleted oil reservoirs.
The same technology that allows us to better recover fossil
fuels is now considered a promising solution to mitigate the
impact of their emissions.
According to a January statement made by Paul D. Tonko, NYSERDA
president and CEO, “Carbon capture and sequestration offers
tremendous potential in our effort to fight climate change.
These important studies will put New York at the forefront
of carbon-sequestration research in the region, and will bring
us one step closer to commercializing capture and sequestration
Critics of carbon sequestration argue that the technology
will merely continue our dependence on fossil fuels.
says Dr. Edwin White, director of the SUNY Center for Sustainable
and Renewable Energy. Based out of the SUNY College of Environmental
Science and Forestry, the center conducts research into renewable
energies and consults the state on issues of energy policy.
“I think it’s a legitimate criticism. But it’s not a practical
way of looking at it. We just can’t shift our dependency that
quickly. Until we get other renewable sources online, the
fact is, we’re going to be dependant on fossil fuels for the
next 40 to 50 years. We have over one thousand years worth
of coal reserves, and we’re going to use some of that. It’s
a security issue. But through clean coal technologies, like
carbon sequestration, we can use some of those fossil fuels
with less impact.”
White adds, “it’s not a long-term solution. The fossil fuels
are going to run out. We need to make the shift to renewable
energies. It’s going to take a while, but we’re headed in
the right direction, and carbon sequestration is part of that.”
Ryan asserts that NYSERDA is exploring all of its options.
“The more varied our efforts, the more prepared we will be
to shift to energy independence. Research and development
into renewable technology and energy-efficiency technology,
wind and solar incentives, there is a broad range of things
we’re doing to make the earth a better place.”
think we’re going to need it all if we want to successfully
mitigate climate change,” says White. “Cleaner fossil fuel
technology is a certainly a start. But you have to get the
policy in the right place or nothing is going to change. We
need to invest in renewables, and there need to be ways to
help people make that transition. It’s a cultural change.
It’s an attitude change. And it’s not easy. In the end, it
comes down to research, public education, and subsidies and
policy that make the change feasible.”
Climate Registry offers businesses, cities, and states a chance
to publicly display their impact on the enviroment and strategize
ways to reduce it
rest of the United States has a lot of reason to be jealous
of the state of California. From the beaches, the babes and
the celebrities, to the rock stars, the glitz, the glam, and
the Governator, California has it all. Thankfully, California
has decided to share one of its better ideas with the rest
of the continent of North America (no, not marijuana vending
machines), and now the carbon-emissions registry that began
in California is available, as the Climate Registry, to any
state, province, city, or corporation on this continent.
Nancy Whalen, spokeswoman of the Climate Registry, explains:
“We started talking to corporations that weren’t in California,
and they were saying they wanted to have registries in the
states to teach institutes how to get a handle on emissions
profiles. They wanted to know, ‘How did you guys do this?
Would you help us in this endeavor?’ So it became apparent
it would be more cost-effective and just more practical to
have one registry instead of each state having their own with
everyone measuring and calculating in a different way.”
What is the goal of the Climate Registry? According to the
registry’s Web site, it aims “to provide an accurate, complete,
consistent, transparent and verified set of greenhouse gas
emissions data supported by a robust reporting and verification
infrastructure. Through this effort, the Registry encourages
early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports
future greenhouse-gas reduction efforts across North America.
Our success will provide proof positive that companies, government
agencies and non-profit organizations stand ready today to
report their greenhouse gas emissions within a rigorous framework
and to take actions to reduce their carbon footprints.”
In other words, any major body—from state government to a
corporation like Kodak—is provided with agreed-on standards
to report exactly how much bad stuff it is pumping into the
air. The program not only works to document honest usage but
also to formulate ways to reduce the release of greenhouse
Whalen notes that at the first board meeting of the Climate
Registry, there was a vote to allow both Canada and Mexico
to become board members. Currently more than 30 states, including
New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont, have signed
on as members, as well as seven Canadian provinces and six
Government officials aren’t the only ones taking advantage
of the Climate Registry’s standard of greenhouse gas reporting.
Businesses, including Corning Inc. and National Grid, the
largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast, have
joined in as well.
National Grid media-relations manager Chris Mostyn writes
in an e-mail to Metroland, “We are working closely
with them on developing the protocol, which is based on the
GHG measurement standards of the World Resources Institute
(WRI). As we have reported in line with these on our UK business
in the past, we were keen to participate to remain transparent
on our emissions, to move forward to reduce them and play
our role in tackling climate change.”
As more legislative bodies pass stricter standards to deal
with carbon emissions, the registry sees itself in a position
to provide a standard of greenhouse-gas reporting for North
Earlier this month, New York State Department of Environmental
Conservation Chairman Peter Grannis announced the new standard
decided on by the board of the Climate Registry to measure
and verify emissions. The DEC publicly encourages state nonprofits,
institutions, and businesses to join the registry.
The registry’s mission is now to provide a standard of reporting,
along with a standard of measuring greenhouse emissions, to
ensure that everyone is on the same playing field. The more
states and businesses that join the registry, the more reliable
and integrated the registry’s reporting system will become.
Whalen says it looks very likely that they will be able to
accomplish that mission. “Things came together really very
quickly. The momentum is quite strong. We have at least 85
corporations, cities and counties now voluntarily reporting
their emissions. People really want to take part.”