The Western New York Environmental Alliance (the Alliance) is an umbrella group that is committed to the preservation and restoration of our regional environment. The work of the Alliance takes place in Working Groups focused on environmental topics.
To get involved with energy and climate issues in Western New York, read on to learn more, join the Working Group listserv, and come to a meeting.
- Educating about renewable energy and energy-efficiency;
- Preventing pollution from energy creation;
- Limiting human consumption of natural resources; and
- Creating economic benefits through clean energy and energy efficiency.
In 2013, all Energy & Climate Change Working Group Meetings will be hosted at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo at Larkin Exchange, 726 Exchange St., Suite 525 in Buffalo, NY. GrowWNY calendar
Working Group Chair
Terry Yonker, Buffalo Ornithological Society / Wind Action Group
OUR WESTERN NEW YORK HERITAGE
The great Niagara Falls serves as a gateway from the north into the Western New York region. Every minute, more than 4 million cubic feet of water tumble over the crest line into the river below. Since 1895, hydro-electricity drawn from these falls has provided large amounts of energy to New York State.
Where energy comes from can have a distinct impact on our region. Renewable energy, generated from natural sources in a way that can be replenished, has key economic and environmental advantages.
ENERGY & CLIMATE TODAY
There are three main reasons why investing in renewable energy is so important:
By switching to renewable sources, we will no longer need to rely on others to ensure that we can produce electricity. With renewable sources it is impossible to “run out” of a resource or for market demands to make electricity unaffordable.
Renewable energy generation harnesses electricity from natural processes. Very few resources are consumed and very little pollution occurs. This creates a cleaner planet for future generations to live on.
The emerging renewable market will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. By leveraging the location and infrastructure of our region particularly of our waterways, Western New York could bring many of these jobs here.
The importance of these renewable resources is known to New York’s political leaders. In early 2010, Governor Paterson established an initiative requiring New York to generate 45% of its electricity through renewable means by the year 2015. This is one of the most aggressive of such initiatives in the country and is projected to bring 50,000 new jobs to New York.
WHAT ARE “RENEWABLE ENERGY” RESOURCES?
Windmills harness wind energy. As wind blows, tall turbines turn, generating electricity as they move. Wind energy is one of the most popular alternative options in the United States. Placement of wind turbines is important, as they may produce slight noise and have a large shadow during peak sunlight hours. Studies have shown that, contrary to rumors, windmills have no negative effect on birds in comparison to other buildings.
Western New York produces wind energy in multiple locations, from the wind farm in Wyoming County to Steel Winds on the shore of Lake Erie in Buffalo. The Wind Action Group plays an important role in the region, bringing together government, business, community and developers to facilitate discussion on wind related issues.
Recently, the New York Power Authority’s Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) project has generated much discussion over the idea of creating an offshore wind farm. Offshore wind farms are popular in Europe, particularly in Denmark and the UK, but have not yet been used in the US.
By serving as an early leader, Western New York could take advantage of its waterways and be in the position to both manufacture and distribute wind turbines for offshore use throughout the Great Lakes. The effect this could have on the local economy is significant, on average each direct wind turbine manufacturing job leads to 4 other indirect jobs.
Solar energy is any energy which comes from the sun. It is one of the most basic necessities for life on Earth, as plants absorb sunlight to provide energy as they grow. Animals eat these plans, taking the energy with them.
Modern technology looks to harness solar energy more directly. Despite our famous cold winters, Western New York receives a generous amount of sunlight and is a great location for solar power generation. Solar panels can be seen in a variety of locations, from on top of the Buffalo Museum of Science to mounted on some electric signposts found along the highway. The Western New York Sustainable Energy Association runs fun events throughout the year giving residents a chance to learn more about solar energy.
Solar energy can also be used in Solar Hot Water systems. These systems use the heat from the sun to create hot water in large tanks, which can then partially replace the traditional hot water system of a home.
Hydro-electric power comes from moving water. Turbines in the water spin as natural current flows past. In 2006, hydroelectricity provided 20% of the electricity in the world, and made up 88% of all renewable energy.
Hydroelectricity is especially popular because of the low cost to produce a large amount of energy. Power generated from the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant serves as one of the largest energy sources in the state. Because of the low cost of this power, it is often used by New York government as an “incentive” to attract businesses to an area. It is important that we ensure that the power generated from our natural resources is consumed here in the region as opposed to other locations – as with these businesses come jobs for Western New Yorkers.
Geothermal energy comes from heat naturally stored in the ground. This heat has been inside of the Earth since the formation of our planet. Traditionally, we could only generate geothermal electricity on the borders of the Earth’s tectonic plates, areas where the Earth’s crust is shifting over time. More recent technology is allowing the expansion of this ability to new locations, making New York an area not bordering a tectonic plate, plausible.
Geothermal heating and cooling is currently more prevalent to our region than is geothermal electricity. These systems use pumps under the ground to heat and cool a building using the Earth’s natural energy.
Biomass energy comes from burning natural material in order to create power. While this burning does release waste into the atmosphere, biomass is considered sustainable because of the short life-span of the organic material that is burned. Because a plant, for example, has only been around for a relatively short amount of time, all of the “waste” generated from burning it has only recently come out of the atmosphere. This creates a more balanced cycle than that of burning materials that have sequestered carbon for thousands of years.
Because of this, there is a fine line between what is considered “renewable” and what isn’t. This is still under debate in some circles. The New York Biomass Energy Alliance works to enhance public support and understanding of biomass as an energy source and to strengthen cooperation between those working on biomass production and technology.
HOW CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Save Money: Conserve Energy
Wouldn’t it be great to save money AND help save energy? Simply reducing the amount of energy you use can have a huge impact on the WNY region. Every watt of energy that is not consumed prevents energy from being produced in the first place. As renewable sources produce energy at a constant rate, by reducing your energy you reduce the demand for non-renewable sources. Turn off the lights and television when you leave the room. Open a window instead of using your heat or air conditioning. Unplug unused refrigerators and appliances when not in use.
New and old homes alike can waste large amounts of energy due to improper insulation. Even some who consider themselves “sustainable gurus” often find that their home is far more inefficient than thought.
Purchase Green Energy
It is possible for you to demand cleaner energy with your wallet – by purchasing renewable energy directly you create demand and directly lead to the creation of more sustainable energy sources. The University at Buffalo’s UB Green office has created a great resource explaining just how you can do this.
Educate Yourself and Others
There are many local groups working on sustainable energy issues. Follow some of the links on this Issues page, or explore the GrowWNY website to learn more.
Now that you know about energy issues, don’t be afraid to let your neighbors, friends and children know as well. Simply reminding others to “turn off the lights” goes a long way to getting people thinking in terms of saving energy!
Make Your Voice Heard
Be sure to communicate with your elected officials and tell them that you support a renewable energy economy. A common misconception is that you need to know everything, or be an expert in an issue to call. This is far from the truth. All your official needs to know is that the issue is important to you.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING:
- ArticlesBase: Solar Power Mandate for New York by 2015
- Center for Climate Strategies
- Green Packs: New York plans to meet 45% of its power needs from renewable energy sources by 2015
- New York Power Authority (NYPA): About Us
- NYPA: Solar Company to Receive Hydropower to Locate Facility in Western New York
- "PV and/or Wind Energy in NY State: A Moral Conundrum with an Amoral Solution", Dave Bradley
- Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences Assessments