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Top 10: Powering our future

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This year was marked by the debate over how to power New York's future.

New Yorkers don’t take kindly to power plants in their backyard.

That’s according to University of Cincinnati professor of urban and environmental history, David Stradling, who spoke with the Innovation Trail’s Emma Jacobs.

Stradling says New Yorkers have effectively forced their state to outsource its power, for better or worse:

I think it’s wonderful that there isn’t a power plant right across from the Saratoga National Battlefield. I think it’s probably a good thing that they didn’t build a nuclear power plant on Cayuga Lake. However, basically what New Yorkers have accomplished is that they have kind of forced the importation of electricity, sometimes from very great distances. The environmental consequences of the generation of that power can be hidden - for example the environmental consequences of hydropower in Quebec, which is really a remarkably unknown and powerful story about the changing of a vast landscape in northern and central Quebec. New York has to import energy from outside its boundaries in part because it’s so difficult for New York’s power companies to build facilities inside of the state of New York. It’s just easier for them to purchase energy on the open market.

We saw this refusal vividly in the series that Emma Jacobs reported from New York’s northern border, where opposition to a new transmission line meets opposition to new hydroelectric dams that could threaten traditional life in Canada’s far flung provinces of Newfoundland & Labrador – but which would help meet New York’s growing demand for power.

And that’s the nut of it – the genesis of the debate about New York’s energy future. 

The desire to not have energy production in our backyard underpins opposition to natural gas drilling. It leads the governor to call for the closure of Indian Point nuclear power plant.  It shuts down the attempt to install wind turbine in the Great Lakes.

In the face of opposition to nearly every possibility from some quarter, the Innovation Trail hosted several conversations to try to determine how New York will power its future.

In May, Daniel Robison looked at the future of hydrofracking, from a western New York perspective, where drilling in the immediate future is unlikely.

In September, we hosted a conversation with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s James Winebrake, about what the Finger Lakes’ options are for a renewable future.

And in December, Emma Jacobs hosted a conversation about what types of power are coming online, and what the social and political ramifications are of those options.

As usual with the debate about energy, those conversations raised as many questions as they answered.  But contrary to what you might expect, uncertainty hasn’t led to impasse.  Every day, New Yorkers are pulling the trigger on decisions about their energy future, and letting the cards fall where they may.

For example, this March, Cornell University converted its coal fired power plant to natural gas.  In April we profiled a Buffalo-based business park that offers solar power as a sweetener, to encourage businesses to relocate there.  And this was the year that the Buffalo Bills went (at least partially) solar.

And that’s the reality of our power struggle: there’s no single path forward, and with every step we take to the future, there are some steps back. What’s important is that we stay engaged, and continue to explore all of our options.

Here on the Innovation Trail, we’ll keep looking for answers – as long as you keep asking questions.

Your turn

What’s New York’s biggest energy challenge going into 2012? Let us know in the comments, or talk back to us on Facebook.

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