Sustainable Energy Independence Report

Introduction


Everyone now recognizes that to reverse climate change, we must reduce CO2 emissions and rapidly end our dependence on fossil fuels.  We have to comprehensively retrofit our entire economy around energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.  In the short term, expanding capacity margins through energy conservation will make the City more resilient to volatility. In the long term, we need to push discussion far past PlaNYC's current goals, and start building a post-petroleum economy now. The magnitude of required change is enormous.
 

Unfortunately, increasing public discussion of global warming and scientific evidence of accelerating climate change have not led to urgently needed action.  According to social scientists, many Americans don’t understand climate change to be an urgent risk because the impacts are perceived as remote, far in the future or far away.  Also, understanding the climate crisis involves sophisticated scientific knowledge that can be easily muddled by parties with agendas other than the truth. [1] In addition, current business and consumer practices are heavily entrenched and defended by powerful business interests. Government sustainability initiatives may have greater success when framed as responses to energy volatility - reducing dependence on foreign fuels and protection from higher energy prices - than to climate change. An April 2008 nation security survey found that dependence on foreign oil is now seen by Americans as our number onesecurity threat. [2]
 

We must also respond to the parallel challenge of increasing energy price volatility, as the fundamentals of energy have changed.  World oil demand keeps rising, and now exceeds world oil production, which will soon peak and go into permanent decline.  That guarantees greater volatility in the price and supply of oil.  Even though its extensive public transit system makes NYC less vulnerable to oil price spikes than other cities, [3] short-term consequences of higher prices may not be immediately obvious.  

How would a prolonged increase in oil prices affect trucks bringing groceries to supermarkets?  Winter heating fuel prices?  The earnings of restaurants and theaters dependent on tourists?  Budgets for fire, police, and sanitation services?  Would commuters still choose to drive into Manhattan, or would they flock to mass transit? 

Transportation accounts for much of our fossil fuel use.  Congestion pricing can fund more mass transit capacity and encourage its use, while decreasing reliance on combustion engine cars and trucks. One of the strongest arguments in its favor is that it will make the City more resilient to much higher future fuel prices.  We should also maximize use of regional rail networks, build a robust national rail system, and turn to electric-powered transit.  Sensible planning, such as limiting urban sprawl, and encouraging new development along mass transit corridors, will minimize future transit needs.  Encouraging regional and local agriculture and manufacturing will minimize fuel costs while strengthening local economies.

PlaNYC aims to cut fossil fuel use and costs by increasing energy efficiency in many new buildings, while recognizing the need to retrofit the vast stock of older buildings.  Simple acts such as caulking cracks, replacing old refrigerators, switching to high-efficiency lights, tuning up boilers and installing solar water heaters can lead to significant fuel savings.  However, more City incentives and mandates will be needed to make these voluntary actions standard practice.

The fastest and least expensive responses to increased electricity use are conservation and efficiency, while scaling up distributed renewable power, currently only a tiny fraction of our electricity production.  Most of our electricity is provided by climate-damaging fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.  Nuclear power, with its high economic, social and environmental costs, is entirely dependent on Federal subsidies and is not a viable solution.  Many small solar electric and thermal power systems on top of houses and buildings, and larger solar and wind systems outside the City, can support and strengthen our overstretched electric grid.

This report will lay out a roadmap of pragmatic steps, which will enhance current PlaNYC initiatives to move NYC toward sustainable and secure energy independence.  Primarily, we encourage City officials to form a Task Force to study potential local impacts and mitigations of energy volatility, and to require consideration of energy volatility in all City agency budgeting and planning decisions, as has been done already in Portland, Oregon and San Francisco.  Portland’s group has generated a municipal report.  Civic, community and business groups need not wait for the City to begin their own explorations. Report recommendations also address transportation, regionalizing agriculture and manufacturing, energy efficiency in buildings, electricity generation, and guiding principles and models for national policy. 

While individual responses are valuable and necessary, they are not sufficient.  If such actions don’t lead to the greater awareness and action needed to effect comprehensive change, they can create a false sense of security and promote denial.  Accelerating government action is crucial.  We need to generate public support for Federal measures much bolder than those proposed so far.  

The good news is that a national project to make clean energy cheap can restore domestic manufacturing, create millions of jobs that can’t be outsourced, and stimulate the economy, while improving our quality of life and mitigating climate change. New York City’s leadership can help make such policy actions a reality, while ensuring a better future for our citizens.

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Report recommendations

 

Transportation:

  • implement congestion pricing

  • remove hidden subsidies for driving and parking cars

  • increase regular and express bus services

  • increase alternative fuel and electric vehicle fleets

  • implement electric streetcar and light rail systems, as in Vision 42

  • implement Auto Free NY plan to maximize use of subway and rail

  • build more intercity passenger and freight train capacity

  • restrict suburban sprawl

  • encourage urban infill development around mass transit access points

  • support and expand use of bicycles and pedicabs
     

Regional production:
 

  • include energy volatility and fuel depletion in New York City and State economic development policy 

  • encourage production and procurement of regional farm products

  • support agricultural production within cities and suburbs

  • enable residents to find farming and gardening jobs

  • encourage schools to establish gardens on their facilities

  • open additional retail farmers markets, a wholesale farmers market, year-round public markets, and a regional product distribution center

  • explore entrepreneurial ways to make private land available to new agricultural workers
     

Energy efficient building:
 

  • increase mandates and incentives for energy efficiency retrofits

  • mandate energy efficiency standards for equipment

  • encourage solar heating systems

  • design buildings for maximum cost-efficient energy performance

  • discourage acceptance of relentless growth in personal electricity consumption
     

New York City and State energy policy:
 

  • set timetables for PlaNYC’s many good energy initiatives, especially the formation of an Energy Planning Board

  • expand net metering to 2 megawatts per site for all customer classes, as in New Jersey

  • distribute smart meters / time-of-use meters, which enable users to choose less costly off-hours electricity

  • raise the New York State Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard to 30% reduction of 2006 electric and gas usage rates 30% by 2015

  • update the State Energy Plan to account for energy volatility
     

References

 

1. “Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change,” Susanne Moser, Feb. 2007, introduction,http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521869232&ss=exc
“Americans believe global warming is real, want action, but not as a priority,” Science Daily, Feb. 23, 2007, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070218140838.htm

 

2.  “Energy Attitudes Summer 2007: Rising Public Demand for Government Action on Energy Independence Even as Global Warming Remains a Low Priority for Voters,” Nathan Cummings Foundation & American Environics, June 2007,http://www.americanenvironics.com/PDF/EnergyAttitudesSummer2007.pdf;
Breakthrough Institute, http://www.thebreakthrough.org/; "Opportunities and Challenges on National Security," Democracy Corps, April 2008,http://www.democracycorps.com/strategy/2008/04/national-security/?section=Analysis

 

3. “NYC less vulnerable to oil price spike,” Crain’s NY Business, Nov. 7. 2007,http://www.crainsnewyork.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071107/FREE/71107010/1047/