Pete’s Renewable Energy Op-ed in The Examiner: Time for Wholesale Switch to Renewable Energy

This op-ed by Pete on renewable energy appeared in The Examiner’s July 3, 2018 edition.  

Many local residents are concerned about the safety of living in proximity to the influx of gas pipeline infrastructure. I first became aware of this issue several years ago while Chair of the Board of Legislators Committee on Parks, Labor and Housing and the Spectra pipeline was expanding through Blue Mountain reservation. We held several hearings where experts detailed the health and safety impacts of living near gas infrastructure. Whether expanding a gas pipeline near a school or running a high-pressure gas line near a sensitive site like Indian Point made no sense then and makes no sense now.

Residents are also concerned about the proliferation of gas pipeline compressor stations, like the one in Southeast in Putnam County, and new micro power plants fueled by natural gas. Not only do they both emit methane, with 80% more heat trapping potential than carbon, they also emit volatile organic compounds like benzene, a known carcinogen. These facilities emit over 5.7M pounds of toxins annually.

Currently, the DEC does not require state of the art emissions controls for all gas facilities. The DEC is currently reviewing new standards for such facilities. To protect the health of New Yorkers, DEC should require gas facilities to utilize Lowest Achievable Emissions Rate technology. This is readily available technology and will reduce adverse health impacts to New Yorkers living in proximity to such infrastructure. With 80,000 people per decade more expected to die due to the Trump cuts to clean air & water regulations, according to a recently released Harvard study, New Yorkers deserve nothing less.

Fortunately there is good news. Natural gas was once considered a transition fuel to a cleaner energy system because it contributes fewer green house gases than coal or oil. However, not only have we learned more about the health impacts of gas infrastructure in the intervening years, renewable energy technology is now abundant and financially more attractive.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that in 2016, global investment in wind and solar power more than doubled that of nuclear, coal, oil and gas generated power by $297B to $143B. Private markets are now realizing that renewable energy is less expensive to produce than carbon based energy, and the technology is abundant and competitive. While New York is a national leader in solar proliferation, we need to double down and expand opportunities, not just for personal renewables, but large-scale commercial renewable energy as well.

My mother lives in a retirement community where every outdoor parking space is shielded from the elements by solar panels above. Further, the facility uses vacant land to host a ‘solar farm’, further reducing their dependence on the grid. As a County Legislator I passed a Solar Inventory Act. Require Westchester to analyze every county owned roof, parking lot and spare land for the suitability of large-scale solar installation. We should do the same at the state level, including SUNY and our state highway right of ways. By employing net metering, the excess energy created flows back into the grid and the owner’s utility bill is reduced.

When the private sector invests twice in renewables what it has in carbon-based energy, we are no longer living with renewables as a “down the road” vision unique to environmentalists. Renewables are now the more cost effective and safer form of energy generation. Wall Street has embraced this. Will we?

Pete Harckham

Peter Harckham served on the Westchester County Board of Legislators representing northeast Westchester from 2008-2015, and in the Governor’s Administration from 2015-2018. He is currently a candidate for New York State Senate in the 40th District.