By Christopher Martin
Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- New York City will likely benefit more from energy efficiency and conservation than mounting wind turbines on city skyscrapers and bridges.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week asked renewable energy developers to propose ideas for generating wind energy and other pollution-free power sources within the city's five boroughs. Along with offshore wind farms, other ideas included tidal and solar power and geothermal energy. Responses are due Sept. 19.
``Most of what New York can do is on the conservation side,'' Bloomberg said at a New York press conference yesterday. Reports in the New York Times and New York Post suggested wind turbines might be built on top of bridges and skyscrapers. ``Windmills are no panacea for our problems,'' Bloomberg said. ``They can help, just like biofuels can help, just like tides can help. In the end, it is conservation that is the main thing you and I can do.''
U.S. cities consume 75 percent of all electricity and contribute about the same amount of greenhouse gasses, said John Moore, chief executive officer ofAcorn Energy Inc. The much smaller German city of Aachen, with a population of 246,000, began a similar effort back in 1993 and it helped spur a development program that made Germany the world's biggest producer of solar and wind power.
``We've got to count on mayors to lead in renewable power because they've got the clout to get permits approved and utilities on board,'' said Paul Fenn, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Local Power Inc., which advises cities on developing renewable energy.
San Francisco's Plan
San Francisco, with a population of 744,000, has the largest plan in the U.S. to bring renewable energy development to its city limits, with a goal of reaching 51 percent of its power production from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2015. New York, with more than 10 times the population of San Francisco and the largest in the U.S., could surpass the renewable output of the West Coast city.
``We're not saying: 'Not in our backyard,''' Bloomberg said yesterday at the news conference. ``We're saying: 'We'll do it.' There's enough sun here to make a major difference.''
At a press conference in Las Vegas on Aug. 19, the mayor introduced a plan to reduce energy use in city buildings 30 percent by 2017, and conserve 220 megawatts during the hottest days of the summer.
A state law passed this month in New York forces utilities to pay homeowners and businesses for the solar, wind, and other renewable power they generate. That's similar to what Aachen's mayor enacted, a so-called ``feed-in tariff'' that Germany later adopted nationally.
In the U.S, few cities have developed wind turbines because tall buildings occupy most of the land and disrupt breezes, making it difficult for the energy source to compete with natural gas and other fossil fuels.
``Turbulence makes urban wind development difficult,'' said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association. ``New York is more likely to get offshore wind parks than on top of buildings or the Brooklyn Bridge.''
Areas with large abandoned factories could be ripe for development, Real de Azua said. Lackawanna, New York, a city south of Buffalo, installed eight turbines on the site of a decaying Bethlehem Steel plant. And Hull, Massachusetts, gets all of its electricity from wind generators built on its peninsula in Boston Harbor.
Wind power developers will add at least 7,500 megawatts of new capacity in the U.S. this year, mostly in the Midwest, according to Washington-based American Wind Energy Association. That would bring the U.S. total to more than 24,000 megawatts, more than Germany's 23,000.
To be sure, New Yorkers are more likely to see solar panels and green gardens on rooftops than wind turbines. Even offshore wind farms have run into opposition because of surging costs.
``I want Long Island to be a leader in renewable energy but the cost of the proposed offshore park was just too great,'' said Long Island Power Authority Chairman Kevin Law, who last year killed a project to build 140 offshore wind turbines after the cost quadrupled to more than $800 million.
``Bloomberg is on the right track but offshore wind has to be cheaper before we'll invest in it,'' Law said in an interview yesterday.
Acorn's Moore said if anyone can make renewable energy work in New York, Bloomberg will do it.
``Congress can't seem to pass a renewable energy bill so it's up to cities to lead,'' Moore said in an interview. ``Bloomberg is well known for upending entrenched organizations.''
Alternative energy is part of PlaNYC, the city's outline for improving the local environment and conserving energy by 2030. In June, the city received approval from the Legislature to grant tax breaks to the owners of private buildings switching to solar energy.
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