One of the most pressing issues in modern efforts to fight rising atmospheric temperatures is the reduction of carbon emissions. Fossil fuels account for 81 percent of the total energy used in the United States for powering daily operations from driving to cooking, but global dependency on burning fossil fuels for energy is directly heating our planet to unprecedented temperatures.
To minimize the effects of global warming, all countries involved in Net Zero have resolved to pass legislation capping carbon emissions and denouncing investment in future endeavours reliant on fossil fuels. As such, one of the greatest challenges of scientists and engineers around the globe today is the search for alternative energy sources.
While global industry leaders and policymakers should be held accountable for responsible resource control, on-the-ground activists and innovative startups play a major role in establishing sustainable living standards for individual communities.
In response to the New York public’s concern for sustainable power sources, representatives from two major developing projects got together to host "New York’s Newest Green Energy Projects" in October 2021, an event that focused on New York’s efforts to obtain cleaner energy in place of burning fossil fuels.
Dale Bryk and Robert Freuderberg from the Regional Plan Association partnered with representatives from both Champlain Hudson Power Express (CPHE) and Clean Path New York to discuss the science and planning behind their projects as well as the benefits for the community.
While CHPE and Clean Path are at different stages of development and obtain energy from different natural resources, both share environmentally and socially responsible goals of generating and providing energy in a non-predatory manner by creating safe and hidden transmission lines straight into the city.
The panellists included workers with a range of specialties. First, Doreen Harri, president of New York Energy Research and Development, spoke about his job, which centres around sourcing clean energy for New York and reducing carbon emissions in the city.
From the other end of the projects, developers Luke Faulk from Clean Path and Gary Sutherland from the Canadian end of the CHPE spoke about their experience working with green energy. Additional panellists included the middlemen, Shashank Sane and Don Jessome, whose jobs centre around transmitting the energy from its external source into the city with minimal invasiveness to the communities along the route.
Both projects begin with the generation of clean energy in an area outside of the city. CHPE, which has all of its permits and is further along in its development than Clean Path, sources its energy from Hydro-Quebec’s reservoir system. Sutherland explains that Hydro-Quebec functions to decarbonize NYC in its partnership with CHPE by providing the amount of energy equivalent to taking 40% of cars off the road.
They also prioritize a no-waste mentality by never turning the renewable energy off but instead pulling it back up the transmission line, allowing reservoir levels to rise and function as stored energy for when NYC demands it. In contrast, Clean Path pulls from multiple energy sources within New York State.
Faulk showed a map of multiple wind farm locations spread equally around the state, all serving as renewable power generators of 3,800 megawatts of energy through a combination of wind and solar power. This project cuts carbon emissions in the city by 22% on average, and, like CHPE, this project also prioritizes a zero-waste mentality. As such, excess energy is stored in the NYPA Gilboa pumped storage facility in order to allow the energy sources to complement one another and maximize the use of transmission lines.
The transmission lines are a primary concern of both projects, considering they run through vast swaths of land, including communities. Aside from carbon emission reduction, transmission lines are the main area where environmental justice concerns intersect with the production of renewable energy.
Both projects, despite CHPE’s greater distance from New York, faced the obstacle of creating non-invasive routes for their transmission lines to carry energy. The harm communities face at the hands of biased and racist urban planning is devastating, so both CHPE and Clean Path actively work to protect marginalized communities.
CHPE aims to move power plants away from Environmental Justice Areas and then build its transmission lines in accordance with over 40 agreements that it has signed with Indigenous communities. These agreements ensure ownership, equity, and economic benefit, including job opportunities.
Clean Path, considering its instate location, protects the community also through underground and underwater transmission lines but holds no agreements with the community in this aspect; however, they have an established $270 million fund for investing in the community, which provides job training, access to healthcare, and more. Furthermore, both projects provide thousands of job opportunities, both directly and indirectly.
Some drawbacks include the fact that many of these jobs are construction-related and temporary; nonetheless, these are opportunities for an income that benefit both the community and the worker. Both projects end their transmission lines at the Astoria power converter and, according to Jessome, collaborate with local and state governments along their routes in order to "untangle the grid" and create a layout that makes geographical sense on all levels.
While CHPE and Clean Path are in the process of developing, they have promising long-term goals and the potential to reduce carbon emissions greatly within New York City over the next 10 years. With this in mind, the climate crisis is far-reaching and fast-acting, meaning larger efforts are also needed on a global scale.
To protect the future of our planet as a whole and lessen the disproportionate injustices that marginalized communities face as a result, we must continue to support projects and leaders that listen to affected communities and scientists.
The fate of our planet is a large and multifaceted issue, but every step away from fossil fuels is a step in the right direction. By limiting fossil fuels without straining marginalized communities, we can establish a more sustainable lifestyle for humankind as a whole, if only we know where to look.
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