A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
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UPDATE: Portugal has announced
a wave generator project that is expected to power 1500 homes. The
technology has arrived!
September 16 , 2006
Albany Should Generate Power
We have the means, let’s create power
while we still can
Conversation stops everytime I bring up this topic,
and I don’t understand why. It’s not like I’m describing
disgusting bodily functions or complaining about my childhood, nothing
tedious like that. But the way people react, I may as well be.
Mostly I get frowns and blank looks. Every so often
I get a condescending “Yes, that sounds like a good idea.” Then
the conversation changes abruptly and I don’t seem to be participating
municipal energy generation really that embarrassing? Is it a subject
that nice people don’t bring up in polite company? While I
admit to a certain degree of social ineptitude, I can usually figure
out why people are not talking to me. And if I can’t, The Wife
is always helpful. (“Must you discuss your trip to the bathroom
while we’re eating?”)
There is nothing to prevent the City of Albany from
getting into the business of generating electricity. For example,
the City maintains a superb water system, far and away the best and
most reliable in the region. During drought years Albany is always
the last to declare a water emergency and the first to declare it
over. The City makes piles of money selling water to the poorly planned
suburbs which are incapable of providing such a basic service without
The City makes money hand over fist importing garbage
and dumping it into the Pine Bush. As everyone knows by now, some
ten percent of the annual City budget comes from dump revenues. But
only nine percent of the “landfill” comes from Albany
households, and maybe ten to twenty percent of the dump’s volume
comes from the surrounding suburbs. (No one knows for sure, the figures
are secret.) The other seventy to eighty percent of garbage in the "landfill" comes
from private haulers.
Most people don’t know that the City makes about
$2 million or so a year from the dirt used to cap the closed parts
of the dump, dirt which is contaminated with toxics. So next time
you hear that the City is “capping part of the landfill” you’ll
know exactly why. They are disposing of toxic waste.
If the City can engage in peddling water and burying
garbage under toxic waste, then it can produce and sell electricity.
This is not a far-fetched notion. Municipal power generation a very
doable business which leads to real benefits for everybody.
For that matter, why can’t Albany County make
electricity? I’m told by multiple reliable sources that the
County has a dormant municipal power authority already in place.
The County could go into business immediately without any of the
preliminary rigamarole with the State.
The advantages of providing power to ourselves are
obvious. First, there is the advantage of eventual independence from
the corporate controlled power grid. New York State is suffering
under the lash of energy “deregulation.” This means that
corporate privateers operating as a cartel can raise prices any time
they want to gouge.
Believe me, folks, National Grid doesn’t care
if working folks are going broke. What those corporate socialists
need is a good old fashioned dose of competition. Please understand
that competition to National Grid’s monopoly will not come
by itself. The only way that they will ever see competition is if
we create it ourselves. And that means providing lower prices to
Second, there are the economic benefits to the community.
If Albany wishes to attract businesses that create jobs, then it
makes sense to be able to offer reliable power at a competitive or
discount price. Thanks to Pataki’s energy “deregulation,” energy
producers have been steadily raising prices. It is only a matter
of time before “deregulation” results in artificial blackouts,
the same as Enron created in California.
If the City is in control of its own power generation,
then it can make long term contracts with beneficial businesses that
provide good jobs. Energy stability is no small thing, and it will
become increasingly important in the future.
Third, the City can make money... lots of money. Eventually
the City can look forward to a situation similar to the selling of
water. Currently, the City government provides water for itself,
sells water to City residents and peddles water to the suburbs. (Again,
the profits from selling water are kept secret by the City, but they
are substantial.) There is no reason in the world why the City can’t
duplicate this success.
Fourth, the City can ease out of the malodorous garbage
business without penalizing its own citizens by raising taxes and
cutting services. This, of course, is what Mayor Jerry Jennings and
his minions have been threatening to do if they aren’t allowed
to expand their garbage collection racket.
Whenever he faces criticism about expanding the importation
of garbage, The Mayor repeats the same line about how the citizens “shouldn’t
object if you don’t have an alternative.” Then he quickly
changes the subject or leaves the room before anyone can suggest
solutions. And his advisors and minions always fend off discussion
by saying things like, “we tried that and it didn’t work,” or “we
looked into that and it’s not feasible.”
This is not to say that power generation is a magic
panacea that will solve all our problems over night. Far from it.
For Albany to get into the power business would take long-term planning
and political will. This is why now is the time to begin. Like our
excellent water system, which took many years to build and has undergone
many major improvements over the years, municipal generation is a
capital investment that will become an integral part of the City
Okay, you may say, it’s a great idea. So how
exactly is Albany supposed to produced sale-able electrons?
There are lots of cost efficient methods readily available.
Indeed, it seems to me that the City should undertake multiple methods
of power generation. That way the City could experiment and learn
from its mistakes without massive consequence, and could have multiple
backup sources of power during emergencies. As they say, diversify
your portfolio and don’t put all your eggs in one frying pan.
But first, let me tell you how NOT to generate power.
Don’t for example, build a gas fired power plant, which is
the "solution" that has been pushed by Governor Pataki.
Remember how our gas bills went up thirty five percent last winter,
even though more gas is now available in New York State for domestic
consumption than ever before? According to most experts, it was because
of all the new gas fired generators across the state demanding priority
for gas supplies. This drove up the price of gas, which in turn drove
up the price of electricity.
Thank you, George Pataki. Another fine example of the
failure of corporate socialism.
Using any fossil fuel to generate municipal power is
a bad idea. The problem is that corporate cartels control these fuels,
which means that any fossil fuel powered project run by the City
will be controlled by these suppliers. Such a course of action will
not make Albany autonomous, and it is guaranteed to lose money.
As a small businessman, I know that in order to succeed
one has to find a way to conduct business that is not “normal” “approved” or “conventional.” To
make a profit from scratch you have to take the path that is less
picked over. So here are my suggestions for generating electricity
with what Albany has readily available.
1) A Field Of Solar Panels As one
of his first acts as President in 1981, evil Ronnie Reagan removed
the solar panels that were placed on the roof of the White House
by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. This symbolic act began a long
national slide into energy dependence on international corporations
and foreign governments.
But wait a minute. At the beginning of his first term
in 2001, the elite oilman George W. Bush, a creature even more evil
than Ronnie, quietly replaced those solar panels on the White House
roof. This was done as a security measure. No matter what happens,
even if all fossil fuels to Washington DC are cut off, the sun still
shines. Even if the sky is rendered dark with pollution, a big bank
of batteries can provide emergency power for a week or more.
Most people have been trained to dismiss solar power
out of hand as marginal hippy drippy dreaming. To those people I
say, get over that nonsense or get left behind.
Most military bases in the US today have their own
solar fields. In fact, military commanders in Iraq are
literally begging for solar panels and wind generators for the
The State of New York requires that all new State buildings
and renovations incorporate solar power generation. In all cases
solar energy is being utilized to increase security in an increasingly
And despite stories to the contrary, solar power generation
is practicable in the Northeast United States. Our rainy climate
gets about two thirds of the total sunshine of the Arizona desert.
With current technology, the typical home in the Northeast can easily
provide more than enough power for itself on its roof, except for
a deficit during the low-sun months of November, December and January.
So here is my proposal. Jerry Jennings wants to use
350 acres of prime ecologically sensitive farmland along the Hudson
River in Coeymans as a new dump. Unfortunately for The Mayor, who
for too long put all his eggs into one frying pan, the entire village
and everybody else nearby is very, very upset. Who can blame them?
They have held off the Mayor and his plan for years while the City
taxpayers bleed money over this lunatic project.
But suppose that field were to be used for solar panels.
One third of the Coeymans acreage is said to be wetland, but even
with that we are still talking about 250+ acres of solar panels.
Not one of those panels would stink, and none of them would leach
toxins into the Hudson. Would the neighbors object to that?
2) A Wind Farm Up north in the Town
of Greenfield in Washington County, an Irish corporation called Airtricity
wants to erect a field of wind turbines, enough to supply power
for up to 1000 households. Spread out over 250 acres, the towers
would rise 240 feet and support giant three-bladed rotors that would
extend another 150 feet into the sky. The towers, like all new commercial
wind turbines, are single columns without struts so that birds will
not perch on them and get caught in the blades. Airtricity
is currently constructing two similar fields in Texas, and currently
operates fields in Ireland, Scotland and England. They are quiet,
efficient money makers that last for decades without serious maintenance.
Sounds great, but there is only one problem. The Town
of Greenfield is moving toward approval, and is no doubt happy to
get the taxes. But how else does this privately capitalized venture
benefit the town?
If the Town of Greenfield had managed to capitalize
such a project, they would have been on their way to achieving energy
independence from the grid. All profits would have been plowed back
into the town budget. But perhaps Greenfield is too small to contemplate
initiating such a huge project.
However, the City of Albany or perhaps Albany County
could acquire land in the County or beyond, and enter into some sort
of partnership with the local community that is hosting the wind
turbines. Mayor Jennings picked Coeymans to site his new superdump
because he believed the community was too poor to fight back. There
are plenty of economically depressed communities near the Capital
District that may welcome these clean wind turbines.
3) Wave Generators We have this big
river called the Hudson that runs along the east side of the City.
Mostly it is underutilized. With a little creativity the river could
be used to run one or many traditional hydro generating systems.
But there is another idea out there.
On warm sunny weekends, The Wife in her canoe and me
in my kayak like to paddle around the Hudson River, often putting
in down at the Corning Preserve here in Albany. Thus I can testify
that the Hudson River experiences a variety of wave action, including
No, I’m not kidding about this. Wave
generator technology is not in its infancy anymore, it’s
more like childhood entering puberty. There
are a variety of systems available here and now. It would take
a little investigation to find out which system would work best
here upriver but it could be done. Indeed, it
is already being tried downriver in New York City.
Since wave generator systems are still not economically
proven, it seems very likely that the City (or the County) could
enter into a partnership with a private or public entity to pioneer
a system. It is likely that any experimental renewable source of
power merits development grants, especially in this atmosphere of
rising energy costs. The more the price of fossil fuel goes up, the
sooner the return on capital investment of renewable energy.
Okay. There I’ve presented three or four suggestions
that utilize existing unused resources for generating power in Albany.
The easiest part is selling the electrons.
Immediately, the City can sell power to the grid. New
York State law is structured so that anyone, even homeowners, can
install devices that make their power meters run backwards.
The next step will be to provide power to city buildings
and facilities. Once a bare bones infrastructure is in place, the
city can begin to peddle power to nearby businesses and residences.
If the power offered is competitive and reliable, demand for City
power will rise, which will fund further expansion of the power infrastructure.
And it is not unreasonable that the City of Albany
could set up a system like the City of San Diego in California. They
have their own municipal power authority that is connected to the
grid. but because they are a municipal authority, they are regulated
by a different set of rules than the energy privateers around them.
Thus, San Diego can set its own lower rates and protect itself from
Can all this be done? With political will it is all
practical and quite possible. Look at Jerry Jenning’s stupid
proposed convention center which has so far managed to attract hundreds
of millions of dollars of State money, even though such projects
are well known to be proven financial failures. Despite this, there
has not been the slightest effective political resistance to the
The Mayor’s will is very powerful. Given enough
time he can build just about anything he wants in the City. And yet
he chooses to build a boondoggle that will leave future generations
cursing his name. Does he not wish to be praised for his foresight?
Shouldn’t Albany, instead of wrecking itself with an unneeded
convention center and covering itself with garbage, be better off
declaring energy independence?
We’d better not hold our collective breaths waiting
for Mayor Jennings to start generating common sense. Perhaps the
next mayor will see the renewable light. and hopefully, if and when
that happens, it will not be too late
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