Energy Resiliency for the 21st Century

Will the jump in gasoline prices be a boon for renewable energy?

With the recent surge at the pump, policy makers are once again talking about the need for a national energy policy that could lower our dependence on foreign fuel, improve our environment and decrease our vulnerability to price swings.

President Barack Obama just completed a national tour highlighting what his administration calls an "all of the above" energy strategy, in which no one solution can meet the country's energy needs. Instead, he has said, the U.S. will need a combination of supply sources, including fossil fuels and renewables such as solar and wind, along with greater energy efficiency.

On April 11, Regional Plan Association will explore one of the solutions being discussed nationally: solar power. We're convening a panel of experts at a policy forum to discuss the opportunities and obstacles facing solar power in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In conjunction with the event, RPA will be releasing a policy brief, "The State of Solar in the Tri-State Region," drawing attention to New Jersey's role as the country's No. 2 solar-energy producer.

Energy policy also will be the focus of a panel discussion at RPA's Regional Assembly on April 27 at the Waldorf-Astoria. Representatives from utilities, business users and environmental groups will look at which clean energy, efficiency and smart grid investments will enable cities and regions to better withstand population growth, climate change, price volatility and supply uncertainty.

The tri-state region faces major energy challenges that require long-term policy and planning solutions. Local air quality in New York City is improving but still poses a serious health risk. New York State and Connecticut have among the highest electricity rates in the country, which hurts businesses' ability to remain competitive. And the higher temperatures that result from carbon emissions cause sea levels to rise, a significant danger for a coastline region.

At the same time, the volatility of the energy market makes it difficult to develop a long-term financing plan for the development of renewable energy. While gasoline prices have risen to record highs, natural gas prices have fallen to historic lows, reducing demand for renewables.

Yet low natural gas prices don't obviate the need for both renewable power and greater efficiency if the region is to remain resilient and avoid greater environmental harm. A growing number of options could reduce the region's dependency on fossil fuels. Solar thermal technology – in which the sun's heat is used to create steam, which then powers a turbine to generate electricity – and natural gas are two cleaner energy alternatives that can replace dirty heating oil and decrease pollution. Transmission lines between upstate and downstate New York could be extended into Westchester and New York City. This would allow renewable wind and hydro energy produced upstate to be moved south, where the majority of customers are located.

Although solar energy is associated with sunnier southwestern states, New Jersey is second only to California as a solar user. In large part because of New Jersey's lead, the tri-state region's use of solar energy has grown to a total of approximately 781 megawatts of solar installed in the tri-state region – the equivalent of a conventional large power plant.

In addition to renewable forms of energy, the region is home to a range of local and state solutions that aim to make energy cleaner and more efficient. They include the phasing out of dirtier heating oil for buildings in New York City, participating in the region's cap- and-trade program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and reconfiguring old power plants to run cleaner fuel.

To register for the April 11 event, visit: http://regionalsolar.eventbrite.com/

To register for RPA's Regional Assembly, visit www.regionalassembly.org