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Catell: Transitioning to cleaner renewable energy vital for NY


Opinion//September 24, 2019

Source: LI Business News

Your cover story in the Aug. 23-28, 2019 edition of LIBN (Gathering storm) seems very appropriate during the hurricane season. The key is being well prepared for the storm, but it’s best if we can avoid the high winds. 

We cannot control Mother Nature, but we can plan for an energy future that provides for an increase in renewables. Business and environmental groups can find a common ground as we transition toward a more renewable energy future, and the pathway is paved with natural gas.

Recent legislation in New York is putting New York State at the forefront in the march to a carbon-free economy. We need to move quickly. An entirely new industry, offshore wind, is at our doorstep. Costs for large-scale solar energy are significantly reduced. New technologies, such as gas-powered heat pumps and a new generation of gas-fired fuel cells, offer remarkable efficiency and resiliency with negligible carbon emissions.

We must move aggressively in this energy transition. We cannot backslide and expand reliance on oil. There is a natural gas surplus in the U.S. and a supply crisis here in the northeast, resulting from a lack of infrastructure. In downstate NY, unprecedented growth, including housing demand, has tapped out access to natural gas supply to the region, despite the glut in North America. 

Meanwhile increases in power produced from interruptible sources, namely wind and solar, will require fast-start gas-fired power generation and a commitment to grid-level battery storage if we are to achieve the carbon-free energy future we desire. 

I currently chair the newly formed National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, and for the past 10 years, I’ve been Chair of the Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center (AERTC) at Stony Brook University, where we are working on emission-free renewable gas technologies focused on innovation to move us to a low-carbon future.

Previously, I was Chair and CEO of KeySpan, where we created and operated the largest fleet of natural gas vehicles—4,000—in the nation. That effort, in the 1990s, was ahead of its time and we avoided contributing millions of tons of CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere. In 1980, in the Fresh Kills landfill, we introduced a methane recovery plan, producing renewable gas and significantly reducing methane emissions. It still operates today.

Independent analysis has shown that without additional gas supply to New York State’s downstate region, poor decisions for heating and cooling will be made. We cannot let that happen. Our best path to a carbon-free future is to continue the transition: embracing the entirely new offshore wind industry, reducing the regulatory and grid connection issues for rooftop solar, maintaining the availability of natural gas, and encouraging a swap to biofuels, including renewable gas. 

State approval of additional gas pipeline capacity—providing it meets all environmental standards in its installation—is essential to maintaining an energy transition. 

People I respect in the environmental community believe that innovation will flourish only when carbon fuels are no longer available. The political will for a carbon-free economy is there. Our universities and research institutions are advancing innovation. The commitment of the Governor, Senate, and Assembly has been established and NY has embraced aggressive goals. 

We may disagree on the lifespan of natural gas as a transitional fuel, but we can get to a common goal without paying too high a price. In our haste to succeed, we cannot encourage old-world technologies by discouraging natural gas. And we cannot jeopardize the new development, which will carry our economy forward.

We are innovating today in energy and NYS will lead the way. However, a compelling step to this new energy future includes an immediate increase in natural gas infrastructure to help propel us forward.


Robert B. Catell is Chairman of the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium.