Green Innovations

Developing renewable and clean technology companies in New York

Thursday, May 9, 2013

NYC a "Top 10 City" for Green Jobs:

The Top 10 Cities For Green Jobs

If you’re a job seeker in Boston, Chicago or San Francisco with experience in energy efficiency, environmental compliance or sustainable supply chain, you may be in luck. Those are three of the top cities for green jobs right now, according to job aggregator site
James Beriker, the site’s chief executive, says he’s seeing an uptick in these types of jobs everywhere. There are more than 83,000 green job listings on right now, compared to 45,000 at this time last year.
“Although ‘green’ hiring is often associated with employment at green companies—where the company’s focus is on developing alternative energy sources or manufacturing products with low environmental impact—we are seeing more and more roles at traditional companies focused on sustainable practices as a strategic and competitive business advantage,” Beriker says. “As a result, green energy and technology fields continue to grow.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as those in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, as well as jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.
San Francisco has the largest number of open positions that meet this description. With 4,758 green listings, jobs there are particularly copious in the areas of clean technology, energy efficiency and energy storage, Beriker says. “With Silicon Valley as a center of technology and innovation, we see significant growth in green jobs related to establishing energy-efficient infrastructure and encouraging adoption of alternative energy sources.”
Houston and New York City follow close behind, with 3,830 and 3,221 green jobs, respectively. “In Texas, home to many oil, gas and energy corporations, we see a number of environmental scientist and engineering roles as well as analyst positions focused on assessing risk and improving process and product outcomes,” he says.
Rounding out the top five are D.C., with 3,207 green job listings, and Los Angeles, which has 2,179.  In D.C. there are a large number of green scientist positions and other jobs with firms and public agencies focused on environmental research, SimplyHired explains.
In fact, more and more companies all over the country are focusing on sustainable practices as a business value, so the green energy and technology fields consequently continue to grow.
Some examples of green jobs include sustainability coordinator, energy efficiency manager, and environmental compliance specialist. “Some of the most interesting jobs are in the sustainability management field, where an individual is tasked with implementing sustainable initiatives and business practices across all areas of an organization,” Beriker says. “Whether working in-house or in a consulting role, these professionals need technical skills and knowledge of leading business practices. They also need strong analytical, project management and communications skills in order to deploy recommendations and solutions across many groups within an organization.”
There are nearly 6,500 jobs with “environmental compliance” keyword on the site right now, which is an increase of more than 60% since May 2012. There are another 18,000 listings of jobs focused on “energy efficiency.” These jobs have also increased by more than 60% since May 2012.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Does Buying Green Stocks Do Any Good?

English: 2011 Chevrolet Volt exhibited at the ...
2011 Chevrolet Volt exhibited at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. The Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and consistently boasts extremely high (often highest) driver satisfaction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Volt owners are almost universally happy with their cars, despite the fact that very few will recoup the extra costs of the car in gas savings.   Even though the financial savings are small compared to the large up front payment for the vehicle, the emotional payback more than compensates.
As someone who helps people invest in green stocks, I can tell you from first hand experience that investor enthusiasm has everything to do with recent financial returns, and not much to do with the good we’re doing.
In 2007, when practically any stock which could be labeled green was going stratospheric, my phone was ringing off the hook.  Then came the crash in 2008, with green stocks falling more than the market as a whole.  Worse, they failed to participate in the market recovery since then.  Green investors are a dedicated lot.  Many of my clients worried that the slump might never end, but none left.  But the calls from new clients became very few and far between.
Finally, in late 2012, green stocks began to rally.  The leading clean energy ETF, PBW, is up 40% from its November low.  The leading solar ETF, TAN, is up 65% from its low.
The phone is ringing again.
Why the Difference?
To judge by the comments from Volt owners, their enthusiasm has a lot to do with the regular thrill they get driving by a gas station without stopping.  Whenever they drive, they are reminded that they’re doing good for the environment.  This makes them feel good, and that feeling keeps them feeling good about their cars, even without positive financial returns.
A green stock portfolio is different.  Few investors make the emotional connection between their green stocks and the success of green companies.
Too Cerebral
Green money managers, in general, are not much help.  I asked my panel of thirteen green money managers, ranging from investment advisors to hedge fund managers how buying green stocks helps green companies.  Here is a sample of their responses:
Investment advisor Jan Schalkwijk, CFA at JPS Global Investments:
In theory, higher demand for green stocks –  to which small investors would contribute by purchasing green stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs – should decrease the cost of capital for these companies, thus improving their ability to expand. Additionally, to the extent that the purchase is funded by a redemption of a non-green stock, this should increase the cost of capital for that company; thus reducing its scope for expansion. However, I don’t think small investors have enough clout to make this theory pan out in reality. It really requires big buy-in from large investors to make a dent.
Solar hedge fund manager Shawn Kravetz at Esplanade Capital:
[T]he small investor is in effect providing capital to the green company and depriving capital of other alternatives.  While the green company has already raised the actual capital, the market purchase fuels demand for that sliver of ownership and in essence rewards the green company, making it easier and lower cost for them to raise more capital in the future and thereby spread their greenness.  One investor does not move the needle per se, but the sum of multiple such investors indeed does.
That’s all true, but it does not exactly get the heart racing.  Schalkwijk, Kravetz and I are immersed in the stock market on a daily basis.  To us, moving the price of a stock a smidgen is very real, we do it and see its effects regularly.  To the average small investor, however, this logic must seem hopelessly abstract.
Your Money, Direct to Clean Energy Projects
Fortunately, it’s not the whole story.
With the arguments for investing in green stocks so intellectual, it’s no surprise that even the most environmentally minded prospective investors are more interested in last month’s returns.
On Monday, I spoke to John Fullerton is the Founder and President of Capital Institute.  The Capital Institute’s mission is to transform finance to effect a more sustainable economy.  Its focus is on large institutional investors such as pension funds and endowments, but he agreed to speak with me about my personal focus: small investors.
In general, Fullerton thinks that the focus on trading in the stock market makes it very difficult for the sustainable investor to affect change.  But he sees some exceptions.  In particular, Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and REITs return their cash flows to investors, so they need to conduct secondary offerings (sell shares) whenever they make new investments.  Investors in these vehicles are buying the future cash flows derived from the expansion of the enterprise, not just speculating on a future stock price.
At the moment, the MLP structure is limited to depleting resources such as fossil fuels and their transport, and so are not likely to be of interest to green investors.  However, the MLP Parity Act, which was designed to correct this imbalance, has been re-introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support.  If the act passes, small investors will have the opportunity to invest in publicly traded MLPs which will directly use the money to fund solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean energy projects.
For now, there are two publicly traded REITs investing in clean energy projects.  The larger of the two is Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (NYSE:HASI), which went public last month and is investing the proceeds in eight clean energy projects that it had lined up in preparation for the IPO.  Since Hannon Armstrong is a leading financier of clean energy projects, investors can be confident that secondary offerings to fund other projects are not too far in the future.  By buying and holding HASI, they increase the amount of money the company can raise for new projects with a fixed amount of stock.  The profits from those projects will then be returned to the investors as dividends.
With the second clean energy focused REIT, Power REIT (NYSE:PW), the connection between the small investor and the clean energy project they are financing is even more direct.  Power REIT has just signed a term sheet for the acquisition of 100 acres of California land underlying approximately 20MW of to-be-constructed solar projects for $1.6 million.  PW will fund that purchase with a combination of debt and equity.
The equity will be raised by the company selling stock through a broker on the New York Stock Exchange under PW’s existing At Market Issuance Sales Agreement.  In other words, if you buy the stock today, there is a good chance that the money won’t go to another investor; it will go straight to Power REIT to fund a solar farm.  Even new investors who buy from other investors are directly helping by keeping the price up and ensuring that for every share PW sells as much money as possible helps finance the solar farm.  Profits from the solar farm will then flow back to Power REIT and be returned to investors as dividends.
Venture Capital

Many small investors wanting to make an impact envy the venture capitalists (VCs) who can fund a start-up green technology company with a better battery or a more efficient wind turbines design.
They should not be jealous.  VCs take their cues from the stock market, not the other way around.  Without the stock market and the ability to sell a company to ordinary investors in an IPO, the only ways for venture capitalists to get a returns on their investments would be to sell them to other companies, or wait for the start up to generate enough profits to pay them back itself.
Many VC-backed companies are sold to other firms, but this is a second choice option, mostly used when stock market valuations are low.  Waiting for a start-up to pay back its initial investors is simply not an option of VCs: the returns take too long.   They prefer the money sooner, in five to ten years at most, so they can move on and fund the next promising start-up.
Because VCs count on IPOs for their best returns, they’re much more likely to fund start-ups in sectors with high valuations.  When  solar stocks are in the stratosphere, VCs fund solar start ups.  When Smart Grid stocks are all the rage, VCs will be looking for the next great smart grid technology.
It’s not only First Solar’s (NASD:FSLR) management and shareholders who are paying attention to FSLR’s share price.  It’s VCs, and all the entrepreneurs hoping to get those VCs to fund the next breakthrough solar technology.
We’re Invested in More Ways Than One
In addition to pointing out that buying a green company helps its stock price, Shawn Kravetz made another point:
[W]hen people own stocks they tend to patronize and talk about those companies.  This vested interest and evangelism, when aggregated, does move the needle.
Fullerton makes a similar point in a recent blog post.  He argues that we should understand investment in the context of a holistic decision-making process that seeks to harmonize (not trade off) financial, social, and ecological objectives.
Both are saying that it’s too simple to just look at the effect our investment are having on companies, we also have to consider the effect our investments have on us.  People whose retirement depends on the continued profits of a coal companies are much more likely to give those companies a sympathetic ear when they complain that regulations to limit mercury emissions (or any other environmental harm) are too expensive and will undermine their profits.
If we invest in companies that stand to lose from the shift to a sustainable economy, the vested interests we are fighting are our own.  Much better to invest ourselves, both financially and emotionally, in companies that will benefit from the changes we know must be made to protect our planet and our children.
Even the smallest investors’ green investments make a difference.  This is most direct when they buy the shares of companies  in the process of raising money for green investments.  Yet they also makes a difference to a company’s ability to reward valuable employees with shares or options, and to the prospects of start-ups in similar industries.   Higher prices for green stocks mean more green companies having successful IPOs, and more green start-ups secure funding.
Perhaps most important are the effects owning a slice of a green company has on the investor.  It is much easier to make the right decisions for the planet and our future when we know the stocks we own will benefit from those decisions as well.
When green investors understand the very real changes their investments are having on the world, perhaps they’ll love their portfolios as well, like Volt owners love their cars.
-Tom Konrad, Forbes

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fake Or Not, New York Times' Tesla Review Speaks Truth About Electric Cars:

English: The Tesla Model S is an all-electric ...
The all-electric Tesla Model S i (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of Tesla Motors, is accusing the New York Times of faking data about how the electric Model S performed in cold Northeast weather.
In a series of tweets and then in a phone call to CNBC, Musk blasted reporter John Broder’s damaging review of the plug-in sedan in last Friday’s New York Times, saying the car died because the reporter didn’t follow the company’s test-drive instructions. And Musk claims he has proof: “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour,” according to one tweet. Musk told CNBC that Broder took “an extended tour through Manhattan” and at times drove “10 miles or above the speed limit.” He promised more details in an upcoming blog post on Tesla’s website.
The New York Times shot back, saying the account was “completely factual, describing the trip in detail exactly as it occurred. Any suggestion that the account was ‘fake’ is, of course, flatly untrue. Our reporter followed the instructions he was given in multiple conversations with Tesla personnel. He described the entire drive in the story; there was no unreported detour. And he was never told to plug the car in overnight in cold weather, despite repeated contact with Tesla.”
Broder recounted his round-trip drive between Washington and Stonington, Conn., which included stops at the first fast-charging stations in the Northeast. But in the frigid weather, he wrote, the Model S didn’t have enough juice to complete the trip, and ended up being hauled to a charging station on a flat bed truck. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the 85-kilowatt-hour battery in the Model S Broder tested has a range of 265 miles. Under “ideal conditions,” Tesla claims it can actually go up to 300 miles between charges.
The review certainly wasn’t pretty, and its timing was especially unfortunate, just 10 days ahead of Tesla’s fourth-quarter results. The start-up, which is still fighting for credibility, has posted a loss in every quarter since its initial public offering in 2010, including a $111 million loss in the third quarter, on revenue of $50 million. In October, Tesla raised $193 million in a secondary stock offering. Success of the Model S, which ranges in price from $54,000 to more than $100,000, is seen as critical to the company’s survival.
While Tesla can count Daimler, Toyota Motor and Panasonic among its investors, others are betting against the company. The Wall Street Journalreported that several investment funds, including Cadian Capital Management and Barclays, have taken out significant short positions on the company, expecting its stock to fall.
A Journal analysis of Nasdaq data found that as of the end of December, Tesla was one of the most shorted stocks on the exchange, with open short-sales positions equaling nearly 24% of the company’s shares outstanding. When investors short a stock, they borrow shares, hoping the price falls so they can buy the stock back later at a lower price, return the shares and make a profit.
Tesla stock fell 2 percent Monday after Twitter lit up with Musk’s comments.
It remains to be seen whether the founder’s complaints are valid. It is not unprecedented for the media to rig a product test in order to produce a story’s desired outcome. Back in 1993, NBC famously admitted it had planted remote control explosives under the bed of a General Motors pickup for a story portraying GM trucks as vulnerable to fiery explosions in side-impact collisions.
It’s not the first time Musk has accused the media of distortion, either. In March 2011, Tesla sued the BBC for libel, arguing that hosts of the popular TV show “Top Gear” defamed the company by claiming the Tesla Roadster achieved a paltry 55 miles of range on the show’s test track, significantly less than the 200 miles or more Tesla claims for the car. Tesla lost that case.
I personally doubt that the Times “faked” anything. At worst, I suspect there was some miscommunication between the reporter and the company about the performance expectations of the car.
But I do know this: Broder’s story revealed a simple truth about electric cars: they’re not going to replace internal combustion cars any time soon. They’re just not ready for mass acceptance.
First of all, it took an hour to refuel at a “fast-charging” station. Not many people have that kind of time to spare.
And consider Tesla’s “range-maximization guidelines”: drive slower and turn down the heater. I once drove six hours to northern New England in the dead of winter with no heat. By the time I arrived, I couldn’t feel my toes.
On a bitterly cold morning – typical for winter in the Northeast – the fix is to “condition” the battery for 30 minutes to restore lost energy. I don’t even wait for my oven to preheat. Now I have to preheat my car?
And if you’re suffering from full-fledged range anxiety like Broder was, would assurances of a few extra miles of cushion help you feel better when the dashboard says your range is down to zero miles?
I’ll keep my gasoline-powered car for the time being.
Meanwhile, here’s an interview Elon Musk did with Bloomberg TV late today.

Pollution Prevention Institute announces winners of statewide student competition:

Awards recognize top graduate and undergraduate sustainability initiatives

Erica Hernandez
The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute announced the winners of its second-annual student competition, held April 24 in Albany. From left to right, Anthony Buchanan, Shelby Jacobsen and Jon Diaz—fourth-year RIT students majoring in environmental sustainability, health and safety—placed third among undergraduate-level projects.

The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) at Rochester Institute of Technology has announced the winners of its second-annual R&D student competition. Open to colleges and universities throughout the state, the event recognized both graduate- and undergraduate-level sustainability projects.
Teams from The City University of New York College of Staten Island (CUNY-CSI), Syracuse University and The New School in New York City earned top honors at the graduate level, while Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Clarkson University and RIT finished in the top three schools among undergraduates.
Earning the top three graduate-level positions:
  • CUNY-CSI captured first place for devising a plan to use sunlight and a unique nanomaterial to decompose organic wastes generated by the college’s instructional laboratories before they are disposed.
  • Syracuse University placed second for its project to investigate the potential of harvesting rainwater from the roof of the Carrier Dome to control water runoff and to prevent stress on nearby sewer systems.
  • Third place was awarded to The New School for its project aimed at evaluating the potential for increasing recycling on the lower-Manhattan campus by conducting a pilot waste composition project.
Representing the top three undergraduate winners:
  • RPI took first place for identifying ways to replace incandescent and fluorescent bulbs—initially within five main buildings before scaling the project to the rest of the campus once it was determined the initiative would result in energy savings.
  • Clarkson finished second for its project to replace sink aerators—which control the water flow from faucets—in the university’s dorms and academic buildings to reduce wasted water throughout campus, with little to no noticeable effect.
  • RIT placed third for investigating the feasibility of replacing petroleum-based plastic silverware with biodegradable or bio-based options, enabling service ware and food waste to be managed together through composting or digestion.
“We were thoroughly impressed by the innovative ideas that both the graduate- and undergraduate-level teams identified to help make their campuses more environmentally friendly,” says Anahita Williamson, director of NYSP2I. “While we recognized six of the top teams, we thought all of the students did a tremendous job identifying opportunities and developing cost-effective and sustainable solutions for their respective campuses.”

As part of its ongoing Research and Development Program, NYSP2I’s Student Competition required teams of students to “Go Green on Campus” by identifying a specific activity at their college or university with a large environmental footprint and find a solution to make their campus more environmentally sustainable.

In all, 15 student teams from 10 schools—Clarkson, CUNY-CSI, The New School, RPI, RIT, Siena College, Skidmore College, SUNY College at Buffalo, University at Buffalo and Syracuse—displayed their projects and competed for prizes at the competition inside the Legislative Office Building in Albany on April 24.

In addition to the top three schools receiving trophies, each first-place team received $1,500 to share among team members; the second-place school received $750; and third place $250. The prize money was made possible through donations by sponsors, including Baldwin Richardson Foods Co., Counterparts Chemistry, General Electric Global Research Center, FMC, Rochester General Health System, Rochester Midland Corp., SI Group and Xerox Corp. Additional funding for the competition was provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

NYSP2I provides comprehensive and integrated programming in technology research, development, training and education aimed at promoting sustainability across New York state. Partners include Clarkson, RPI, UB, and New York’s 10 Regional Technology Development Centers. The institute is funded through the Environmental Protection Fund and managed by the state DEC.

NYSP2I promotes cost-effective, pollution-prevention techniques that aid businesses in reducing manufacturing costs, energy and water usage while and decreasing toxics and hazardous substances in overall waste streams—allowing companies to remain competitive in today’s challenging global economy.
Go to to learn more about NYSP2I.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Learn About Renewable Energy from the

Renewable Energy

Aerial view of the St Lawrence Power Project
St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project
- hydroelectric generating facility on the
St. Lawrence River in NYS
(Photo courtesy of New York Power Authority)

Renewable resources -- wind, water power, solar, geothermal and biomass - already provide nearly 11 percent of the energy that New Yorkers use for transportation, space heating, industrial processes and electric power, according to NYSERDA and the federal Department of Energy (offsite links at right). Even more important for the state's energy future, renewables have the potential to meet as much as 40 percent of energy needs by 2030.

Substituting renewable energy for fossil fuels can mean crucial benefits for New Yorkers:
  • Significantly lower pollution: With life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions only a fraction of those from fossil fuels, renewable energy is essential to stabilize atmospheric GHG levels worldwide. Locally, reducing air pollution from fossil fuel combustion will improve public health.
  • Accessible, affordable energy: Renewable energy can help to reduce net retail electricity prices and fuel price volatility, and can bring downward pressure on wholesale market electricity prices by replacing power from more expensive generation units.
  • Energy "insurance": Renewable technologies can help balance the electric grid (think abundant solar electricity on hot, sunny days). On-site renewable power can meet certain energy needs cheaply and simply (as when small solar panels are used to operate roadside electric signs). Distributed renewable power generation and "microgrids" (clusters of buildings that share a local electric power generation or energy storage device capable of disconnecting from the utility grid) can provide resiliency during natural disasters.
  • Economic prosperity: Because almost all the renewable energy used in New York is generated in-state while most fossil fuel energy is imported, local economies keep more of the dollars spent for renewable energy. Stable, well-paid jobs in grid-scale renewables can help sustain local economies. Growing markets for renewable technologies play to New York's technical, industrial, commercial and financial strengths.
Deploying renewable energy presents technological and institutional challenges. The energy output of some renewable sources varies with season or weather conditions, requiring operational changes to increase the electric power grid's ability to handle variable loads. Investment in a "smart" electric grid is needed to enable utilities to manage power demand, and to allow consumers to function as energy generators and storage facilities.

Renewable energy also brings significant economic opportunities significant opportunities. In particular, the project of integrating renewable energy resources into existing energy supplies and end use sectors is expected tocould lead to important new products and systems. Information from a smart grid would help consumers save money by intelligently controlling their own power use. Paired with a smart grid, renewables have virtually untapped potential to deliver clean energy that meets the needs of growing populations and economies.

Today's Renewable Energy Picture in New York

NYC skyline in background and flat roof building with solar panels on top in foreground
Solar panels generate electricity on a roof in the
New York City metro area.

Comprehensive descriptions of New York's renewable energy use are found in the New York State Energy Plan Renewable Energy Assessment and in reports from NYSERDA and the US DOE Energy Information Administration. Energy agencies currently track use of solar, wind, plant and forest products, wastes, tidal, hydro and geothermal, which have the greatest short-term potential to provide significant amounts of renewable energy.

Renewable Energy Use

In New York, electric power generation is the largest beneficiary from renewable energy - the 2009 State Energy Plan records that approximately 60 percent of New York's 2007 renewable resource use was in the electric generation sector, and the remaining 40 percent came from ethanol (18 percent) and biomass (22 percent, largely wood used by the residential sector).

The Energy Plan reports that approximately 16.8 percent of the state's total electricity generation came from renewable sources in 2007. Since that time, New York has seen significant gains in wind generation and modest growing adoption of solar photovoltaic electricity and of solar thermal and geothermal technologies for space heat and hot water in homes and other buildings.

State Policies Promote Renewables

Several important state policies are specifically aimed at promoting adoption of renewable technologies and development of renewable energy sources:
Renewable Portfolio Standard
The state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) has a goal of at least 30 percent of renewable electricity by 2015 (sometimes referred to as '30 x 15'). Renewable electricity generators compete for state production incentives and, in exchange, guarantee delivery of renewable electricity to ratepayers. RPS provisions and performance are described in the State Energy Plan Renewable Energy Assessment.
Renewable Energy Incentives
State government offers grants and loans to help New Yorkers adopt renewable energy technologies or develop renewable energy businesses. The NYS Energy Research and Development Authority offers renewable energy incentives and opportunities for individuals, businesses and institutions. (See NYSERDA link at right.)
NY Sun
The NY Sun Act provides administrative flexibility to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and other New York State energy agencies and authorities to design the most cost-effective programs and to respond to changing market conditions.
Net Metering
The state's recently-adopted net metering law makes it easier for residences and businesses to use solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. Under net metering, homes, businesses, farms and institutions can feed excess electricity generated by renewable technologies such as photovoltaics, wind, biomass, fuel cells, anaerobic digestion, small hydroelectric and microturbines back into the electric power grid and receive credit from their power suppliers.
Executive Order 111
Wind Turbine installation, Union College, Schcnectady
Three of the turbines being
installed here will provide 40
percent of the power used
regularly at Union College's
athletic complex in Schenectady.
EO 111 sets forth an energy purchasing goal to meet 20 percent of the annual electricity requirement of buildings occupied by state agencies through renewable technologies.

New York's Renewable Energy Industry

New York's clean energy leadership is underscored by its growing renewable energy industry. When the 2009 State Energy Plan was compiled, more than 50 companies in the state manufactured renewable energy technologies or related products; more than 90 New York companies were certified to install solar-photovoltaic systems, and several corn-based and advanced cellulosic ethanol plants and numerous ethanol and biodiesel distributors and retailers were located in the state.

Since the assessment was published, battery storage technology research has been initiated in New York and the General Electric Company has dedicated its Renewable Energy Global Headquarters here. The 2013 State Energy Plan will include an updated description of renewable energy research and manufacturing in New York.

For a report examining the implications of renewable energy for rural communities and economies, see Transitioning to Renewable Energy: Development Opportunities and Concerns for Rural America, available from Cornell Cooperative Extension Community and Regional Development Institute (CARDI), link at right.

Energy: Energy planning encompasses not only the electric power sector of the economy, but also the transportation and buildings/industrial (called "residential/commercial/industrial) sectors.Energy planners typically take into account the total consumption of fuels needed to provide energy to consumers -- both energy actually used by consumers and energy used in producing and distributing consumer energy products.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Can an old coal plant adapt to the new energy market?

This week, reporters from the Innovation Trail are taking a look at the pieces of New York State's complex energy puzzle. 

The Cuomo administration laid out its agenda to address future energy requirements. The blueprint focuses on clean technology, the smart grid, and new sources of alternative energy.

But New York's home to some of the oldest power generating facilities in the U.S., including coal fired plants.

Stricter emissions regulations introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the availability of cheap natural gas are combining to make times tough for coal-fired plants.
The four coal towers of the NRG power plant dominate the skyline of Dunkirk. For decades, the plant has been a large source of tax dollars and employment in both Dunkirk and the surrounding community.The NRG power plant in Dunkirk presents a good case study for coal plants across New York, and the upstate region, that are now facing a changing energy landscape.
Senator Cathy Young says this facility differs from others in one key respect.

“Often times, communities don’t want power plants in their backyard,” says Sen. Young.
“This is just exactly the opposite, because the people of Chautauqua county understand how critically important keeping this power plant is to them.”

Dunkirk Mayor, Anthony Dolce, says the residents of his city are well aware of the impact the local plant has.

“In 2012, NRG contributed 23.6 percent of our operating revenue through a PILOT agreement. And if that were to go away, I mean, a quarter of your operating budget is such a significant amount to try and make up through other avenues in my budget. So, NRG has always been a great community partner to the city of Dunkirk.”

But, like many other coal plants, Dunkirk’s future became uncertain with the rise in prominence and affordability of natural gas.

Is coal still a viable business?

After outlaying millions to bring the Dunkirk station up to speed with environmental regulations, and ensure it remained open, NRG posted significant losses in the year to February 2012
The following April, the price of natural gas plummeted to an all-time low, taking electricity prices with it.

The result for NRG is that the company no longer sees the coal plant as a viable business. In March 2012, the company filed a notice of intent to mothball all four units at the plant, with the New York State Pubic Services Commission (NYSPSC).

However, the state says Dunkirk’s station is too integral to the reliability of Western New York’s electricity grid to shut it down completely.

Two of the four towers have already been taken offline, with a third to follow in May.

But the fourth will continue to run until a decision is made about what to do with the facility.
There are two options – re-power the facility with natural gas, or bypass it with transmission lines that bring power in from elsewhere.

Mayor Dolce has a definite preference.

“The impact that NRG has is tremendous, and I think the citizens of Dunkirk are well aware of that. And that’s why they’re behind the re-powering of the facility.”

NRG’s director of development, John Baylor says re-powering the station fits the Cuomo administration’s Energy Highway blueprint for the state’s energy infrastructure, and the company would like to see that happen.

“If you don’t re-power the existing Dunkirk, then what’s at risk is really the jobs and the tax base for the community,” says Baylor.

He also notes that NRG would be bank rolling the re-powering effort, whereas the cost for upgrading transmissions would fall on rate-payers and the state.

“The plant we’re proposing today is a 400-440 megawatt combined cycle unit and that’s about $500 million investment.”

Senator Cathy Young says that level of private investment in Western New York is one of the attractive features of the re-powering scenario.

“It would not only create 500 construction jobs during the building of the new plant, but it also would preserve existing jobs and that’s very important.”

Generation vs. transmission

Baylor says as far as NRG is concerned, promoting power generation and independence in the state are far better than relying on outside sources for power.

“Our view is that generation is going to be better than transmission. You have strong economic benefits from investing in the local community. Rather than just fixing the wires so that you can import more power from out of state,” Baylor says.

But not everyone is sold on the idea that generation is the way to go. Jim Burpee, President and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association, says transmission and cross-border integration of supply makes more sense.

“The number one benefit of an integrated system between Canada and the US has been, and continues to be, and will be going forward, reliability of the system. That really has contributed to a level of reliability that we might not otherwise see,” Burpee says.

And he makes another point. Canada represents a large source of cheap, non-carbon-emitting energy supplied right across the border.

“If there’s an objective to decrease the amount of carbon in the overall supply in North America then it would argue for more integration between Canada and the US.”
But Burpee concedes that it comes down to where your priorities lie.

“It really comes down to what your long term objectives are, both in terms of the economics and what is the value of environmental performance.”

NRG’s John Baylor says their plan to re-power with a natural gas, combined cycle system would encourage green energy development within the state.

“The way I would think about old generation versus new generation is almost like looking at it like a Cadillac; you’re driving your parents old 1970s Cadillac and then you switch to a Prius. These new units are extremely efficient and it’s using natural gas which is much cleaner,” says Baylor.

Combined cycle systems

Combined cycle technology uses a two stage process that involves combustion of natural gas to create energy, and then the capturing of excess heat to create steam and produce more energy.
These systems have the ability to scale electricity production up and down very quickly; making the technology an ideal partner for green, and intermittent energy sources like wind.

“What’s unique about a combined cycle unit is that, unlike a coal unit, it can start up and shut down very quickly. Renewable technology, and the kind of renewable technology that is generally available in abundance here in New York state is wind,” Baylor says.

“It’s a more natural support in just the way that energy can be generated, turned on and off. It matches nicely with wind and other intermittent energy sources.”

So what’s the next step?

National Grid, which owns and operates the upstate transmission networks, will evaluate NRG’s re-powering plan.

They will then make a recommendation to the Public Services Commission on whether re-powering the plant or upgrading transmission lines will be better for customers, the environment, and grid stability.

In a statement, National Grid said that they do not see themselves as being in competition with NRG.

“We do not view ourselves as being in competition with Dunkirk, nor do we believe we are in any way the root cause of why the Dunkirk facility is in the position it’s in economically.”

In Dunkirk, there seems to be overwhelming support for the re-powering scenario, even though the plant would require less manpower in the long term.

Mayor Dolce says the priority is to keep the plant open.

“Natural gas is just that much more efficient that they’ll go from 145 jobs when the process began down to 26. But the glass half-full look is, it will make the plant stable for the next 50 plus years.”

That trade-off is one that a lot of other power plants and their surrounding communities will also be weighing up, as the use of coal in electricity production continues to decline in New York and across the nation.

Reporting by the Innovation Trail is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.