Start with the news that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has denied a permit necessary for the controversial Competitive Power Ventures plant to begin operations. Coming only days before the plant was supposed to go online, this dramatic and unexpected turn has the many critics of the plant hoping that it will be the beginning of the end, that what once seemed like an inevitable path to full operation over objections that came too late might have run into insurmountable obstacles.
Then consider two other energy-related news items in the same week.
The company planning a $400 million revival of the old Danskammer generating plant in the Town of Newburgh is now pitching it not only as a place that burns fossil fuel to create electricity, which it still is, but as a way to reduce the need for using even more natural gas and lowering energy prices along the way.
And the Buffalo News reported that four of the five turbines the state installed at Thruway exits in western New York at a cost of $5 million a few years ago are idle while awaiting parts, a story that sends the message, without explicitly saying it, that such delays are unacceptable.
Then consider the thread that runs through the many other stories about energy needs present and future. No longer are fossil fuels inevitable. No longer must we use them reluctantly while waiting for the energy industry to turn completely and irreversibly in the direction of renewable sources, to investments in solar, wind and hydro, to improvements in energy conservation, that need all of the dollars that otherwise might be invested in a technology we are getting ready to do away with.
The CPV decision, like all in New York State, has a whiff of politics accompanying it. Coming after one of the governor’s top aides was convicted of corruption for soliciting bribes from the company building the plant, it has the appearance of a decision calculated to remove an embarrassing situation from headlines.
Let the plant start burning gas and producing power in the next few weeks, as was expected, and the inevitable complaints would fill the time remaining until the November general elections. Decide, as the DEC did last week, that the operators need to start a process that includes a 45-day review process and other built in bureaucratic delays and the CPV plant is less likely to be in the headlines.
While this gives opponents many chances to renew the arguments that were not able to stop the plant in the first place, it also expands the opportunities to turn the CPV permitting process into the more important, more far-reaching issue of the transformation of the state toward an energy supply that relies on alternative sources not sometime in the future but now, especially as the need to replace the energy from the Indian Point plants gets closer.
The question is not how many of these fossil fuel burners we need to fill in the gaps but how we need to invest the money that would be wasted on them and fill those gaps in other ways.