Local Energy for Local Prosperity
Our modern way of life consumes massive amounts of energy, most of it from non-renewable fossil fuels. Not only is this unsustainable and environmentally destructive, but it also represents a drain on wealth from small communities to large utilities and energy corporations. We often hear about the importance of greater energy independence for America, why not energy independence for our region? Developments in renewable energy technology have made it easier and more affordable than ever before to help wean ourselves from energy dependency, and our area is blessed with an abundant natural endowment of wood, sun, and wind. By responsibly developing local energy supplies that are locally owned for local users, and by rethinking the inefficiencies in our energy usage habits, we can not only help reduce our carbon footprint, but can also save money as well.
Fleischmanns Biomass Heating
A Local Energy Solution
The Village of Fleischmanns is presently working with the Catskill Forestry Association (CFA), the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry (ESF), and the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) to develop plans for a sustainable municipal heating system driven by a high-efficiency woody biomass gassification boiler.
The proposed system would provide hot water for heating and domestic use through a network of underground pipes to 170 year-round residential and commercial buildings in the village and potentially also to an additional 35 seasonal buildings. Compared with typical per-building heating oil based systems, this could lower energy bills for individual homeowners by $500 and for commercial buildings by $1,800 in the first year operation, with additional savings over time. And savings to individual users are just the beginning.
A recent study estimates that $0.78 for every $1.00 spent on heating oil in the Northeastern US leaves the United States. A biomass heating system using locally sourced wood from sustainable forestry practices would also keep energy dollars recirculating in the local economy and support new jobs and business opportunities in forestry and fuel processing services. It would also provide a renewable, lower-carbon source of energy and protects the community from interruptions and price volatility in the global oil market. The prospect of lower energy expenses would also help entice other new businesses to locate in the village.
Transition Catskills is looking into ways to help support the development and financing of this project.
Many individual homes and businesses are already using grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to supplement their electricity needs through the use of net metering. Net metering allows customers to subtract excess electricity supplied from their PV systems to the grid directly from their consumption from the grid, and so only pay for their net consumption. This alleviates many of the problems caused by the intermittency of solar power and the time mismatch between generation and demand.
Virtual net metering extends the idea of net metering to allow credits from a single generation source to be distributed to multiple customers physically separated from that source. This would allow, for example, a solar PV farm in a dedicated location to effectively supply energy to homes and businesses where individual PV systems are not practical or affordable. New York State has already passed a bill authorizing virtual net metering in certain cases (A6270B-2011) and a further bill (S3217-2013) extending this for more general residential customer use is currently under consideration in the New York State Senate.
We will be following the progress of this legislation and looking into the possibility of developing solar farms on otherwise unused land. An acre of land could host over 650 kW of PV capacity, producing up to 825,000 kWh per year. That’s worth over $150,000 at residential rates and is enough to power over 100 average New York state homes.
Residents and businesses would contribute to the construction costs of these farms and receive shares of the energy credits produced on their electric bills.
Solar PV systems have shown a trend of increasing efficiency and decreasing costs in recent years and are in many cases competitive with traditional utility provision on a fully-costed basis. Solar farms using virtual new metering could provide a way to make the economics of PV systems even better by centralizing and sharing the up-front costs. So we can not only reduce our carbon footprint and gain energy independence, but also save some money!
We want your ideas
Have any great ideas about how to provide local energy?