My high school's motto, "finis origine pendet" can be translated
as "well begun is half done.'" On energy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's
plaNYC is a well-begun start, with the well-intentioned design of a new Energy
Efficiency Authority within a new Energy Planning Board. Such an overarching
governmental framework is vital to reducing New York's "'carbon footprint'
- the sum of all the greenhouse gases we emit. But community-grounded measures
and daily practices must compliment such an effort given the fractious nature
of planning here.
Other initiatives could be expanded as well. The recommended measures to modernize
power plants, improve the electrical grid and revise the building code revisions
will help transform our environment. But an equally robust effort must focus
on buildings: We have 100 "green buildings" in a city with 950,000
structures. Just as Bloomberg looked to his London counterpart for inspiration
in traffic management, he can find innovative public programs in the U.S. for
reducing our energy consumption.
Research has found that energy efficiency measures accompanied by education
have a greater and more lasting impact than efficiency measures alone. Residents
and owners maintain efficiency improvements to the extent that they understand
their nature and effect. "An Energy Awareness and Training Campaign"
should begin immediately in and the involvement of the Department of Education
engagement is vital.
The city should also look at programs that provide energy efficient compact
fluorescent lights to residents: Chicago's mayor is giving away 500,000 fixtures,
which residents pick up along with basic energy information at their alderman's
office. Commercial buildings, working with unions and the Apollo
Alliance for Good Jobs and Clean Energy, must train maintenance staff so
lights get turned off after 9:30 p.m.
Promoting Alternative Energy Sources
New solar generating capacity is critical to citywide peak load reduction,
but the plan's conclusion that New York City is uniquely expensive overlooks
the obvious. If installation costs here are 30 percent to 50 percent above those
in New Jersey or Long Island, one should seek out areas within the five boroughs
that mirror New Jersey and Long Island. Where are the largest expanses of publicly
accessible land or south-facing surface area available for large-scale photovoltaic
installations? One finds multiple options, from railyards (Sunnyside, Hunts
Point) to roofs (airport hangers, for one) to public rights-of-way. In Denmark,
highway shoulders and rail lines feature soundproofing berms mounted with photovoltaic
panels. This could provide a model for large-scale solar-power generation along
the many city highways, the Long Island Rail Road right-of-way and the entire
above ground southern exposure of the Number 7 line.
Sacramento's municipal utility installs solar panels on private property on
a leaseback arrangement and provides the panel-shaded parking (at a premium
price) at the local airport. Developers could do something similar on the acres
of rooftops in Hunts Point, Long Island City, along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn
Fuels made from plant material - so-called biofuel -- offers a triple benefit:
improving air quality and public health while reducing petroleum use and emissions
of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Fully half of New York City's houses
and apartments -- nearly 3 million homes -- use oil-fired or dual fuel heat.
This exposes owners and tenants to the vagaries of an increasingly volatile
international oil market. Worse, it generates sulfur dioxide (23,500 tons in
2004) linked to New York's per capita death rate from so-called diesel fine
particles - the third highest in the U.S., behind only Beaumont, Texas, and
The plan shortchanges biofuels in several ways. First, biodiesel can be blended
with existing heating oil and burned in many existing furnaces. A fuel that
is 20 percent bodies significantly reduces particulates, carbon dioxide and
Three good first steps would demonstrate the potential of cleaner fuels. First,
with the New York City Housing Authority heating over 80 percent of its 170,000
apartments with heavy oil, immediate conversion to heating fuel with 20 percent
biofuel in developments located where asthma rates are particularly high is
an environmental and a public health imperative. Using biodiesel for transit
and school buses would benefit riders, drivers and residents, especially those
in communities of color where bus depots are invariably sited. Third, complete
boiler changeover in 100 NYC schools is largely unnecessary- many if not most
can already use a blend of biodiesel and fuel oil.
As New York primes the pump for such renewable fuels it should not simply seek
out the cheapest material. The growing of soya oil from Brazil and palm oil
from Indonesia on clear cut land releases ten times as much carbon as petroleum
production. PlaNYC can help pioneer a clearly needed green fuel certification
modeled on current sustainable forestry.
Building Public Support
Citizens will respond to leadership and timely information. When the California
energy crisis led officials to call for a 6 percent reduction in overall electrical
demand, residents called for demand to be cut by twice that. A record of 'Best
Practices' can excite and empower residents and building owners to take the
next step. Couples waiting for marriage license at the municipal building could
view material on saving energy. And at the end of the school year all 1 million
public school students could depart for summer vacation, trained agents in reducing
peak electrical demand.
John Nettleton is a senior extension associate at Cornell Cooperative Extension/NYC.
In spring 1990, he designed and taught 'Urban Impacts of Global Warming' at
Manhattan College, the first such course ever given in the city.
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