Where we are
With the occasional exception of walking to the corner store or heating our home with a wood stove, the comfort and quality of our lives depend on energy – industrially produced energy.
This energy, delivered in the form of gasoline, heating oil, natural gas, or electricity, keeps us cool or warm in well-lit homes or offices, takes us to work or on vacation, and brings us products and food from around the world. Someone from just 100 years ago could scarcely imagine these benefits.
How we got here
This energy comes from burning carbon-based “fossil fuels” deposited by plants or micro-organisms on the earth’s surface or at the bottom of its oceans many hundreds of millions of years ago, when, or even before, the dinosaurs ruled the earth. This happened when the earth was much warmer than it is now, and its atmosphere held much more carbon dioxide and less oxygen than it does now. In fact, it was the replacement of the carbon dioxide by oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere by those primitive plants over the past billion years that allowed animal life to evolve on our planet.
In the eons since then, those plants were buried and transformed by heat, time, and decay into what is now coal, crude oil, and natural gas. The extraction and burning of these fossil fuels, beginning with coal at the start of the Industrial Age around 1850, gave humans access to energy far beyond what their bodies, their animals, water wheels, or windmills could provide. In other words, it allowed us to progress from primitive rural agricultural societies to modern urban industrial ones.
What the problem is
However, the industrial scale extraction and use of these fossil fuels causes serious problems at several levels:
Where it is obtained: Contamination or destruction of air, water, land and forests around coal mines, oil wells or fields of wells extracting natural gas by “fracking”
Where it is used: Air and water pollution where the fuels are burned
All around our planet: global warming and climate change caused by putting back into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide removed from it billions of years ago.
During Superstorm Sandy, we Long Islanders saw firsthand the disastrous effects of a storm strengthened by shifting climate. If we don’t get off fossil fuels, future storms will be even worse!
Where to go from here
Long Island is more vulnerable to damage from storms like Sandy and flooding from rising sea levels than many other parts of the state. If we do not lead – by speeding the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy from the sun and the wind -- we have no right to expect that other areas of the state will do the same.
We must provide an example – as individuals and at the level of our region – by:
Using energy more efficiently
Obtaining that energy from carbon-free, renewable sources that produce no pollution
Individually it’s easy to
Get an energy audit for your house; then upgrade insulation and other systems by a subsidized retrofit so it needs less energy and money to keep you comfortable;
Replace power-hogging incandescent light bulbs with new LED lamps that use less than a third of the electricity
Develop energy-conscious habits like turning off lights and TVs when not in use, planning errands to drive less;
Replace your current auto with a more fuel-efficient one, such as a hybrid or plug-in electric-only model
Add subsidized solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to your roof to generate electricity directly from the sun
Our individual actions to limit climate change can have a large effect. But major change will only occur when significant changes happen throughout our society.
Fortunately, we on Long Island can be an example for the rest of the state because we're blessed with abundant sun on the land and wind off our shores. Over the past few years, our electric utility (PSEG under LIPA) has begun taking small steps to invest in local solar power, but this transition must be significantly increased and accelerated.
We must make our voices heard in our local governments and school districts so that they use their large, flat roofs to generate income and solar power for themselves while reducing pollution from fossil fuel generating plants.
All of these solar installations are a good start, but they're not enough to protect our families from climate disruption or build a robust clean-energy economy. We need Gov. Cuomo and our electric utility (PSEG under LIPA) to work together to develop our largest untapped energy resource -- abundant off-shore wind power.
We have two nearby opportunities for such installations far from our shores and unlikely to have any negative environmental impacts.
Developer Deepwater Wind is ready to build a 280 MW wind farm about 30 miles east of Montauk Point, provided that the power can be sold to our electric utility. This could be the first large-scale step in removing fossil fuel generation from our electric supply and making a transition to a fully renewable supply by 2030 as outlined in a major independent study.
The New York Power Authority has applied to lease a swath of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean for a wind farm off Rockaway’s shores. A city study says that “Wind farms could play a major role in replacing energy now produced by the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County and eventually generate enough electricity to power a half-million homes in New York City and Long Island.” The plan calls for hundreds of wind turbines that would one day power the community’s electrical needs and begin the end of the need for foreign fuel.
We need to encourage LIPA and PSEG to agree to purchase power from this proposed wind farm. Please contact LIPA and the Governor to urge them to make New York and Long Island leaders in the US for offshore wind power.
On the other hand, the very last thing that we need is another gas-fueled power plant . Yet that is exactly what the LIPA Board plans to build next to the existing Caithness plant in Brookhaven Town. The Sierra Club and other groups oppose such new construction until a new Island-wide energy plan shows that construction of such a plant is in fact necessary and unavoidable.
- Peter Gollon, Energy Chair