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December 2009 Archives

December 4, 2009

DEC Announces New Mapping Gateway Website

On December 3, 2009, DEC announced a new Mapping Gateway website that will help the public find wildlife, accessible recreation, boat launch sites and other items of interest. According to DEC, it has utilized technology available through Google.com to make it easier for web visitors to view user-friendly information specific to their interests on a variety of topics and without the need for complex, expensive geographic information system (GIS) software. DEC’s Mapping Gateway combines existing web mapping applications and map collections with new offerings, such as a full-featured, interactive data inventory and map viewer.

In recent months, DEC has been expanding the availability of “Virtual Globe Data” to enable visitors to retrieve a variety of interactive aerial map representations after downloading virtual globe software such as Google Earth. In addition, DEC has incorporated some data into Google Maps, which does not require any software downloads, to provide an even more accessible way for people to obtain DEC’s information. The Google Maps functionality provides location information and also lets users easily obtain driving directions.

Among the enhancements to DEC’s Mapping Gateway are the following:

(1) Accessible Recreation Destinations that offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. Users can see which accessible features are present at each site and view photographs of the different destinations;

(2) Boat Launch Sites owned or operated by DEC that provide the public with facilities for launching their vessels for fishing or boating. Users can see the type of launching facilities available at each site and if their boat can be accommodated;

(3) Public Fishing Stream Parking Areas that provide anglers easy access to waterways allowing public fishing opportunities. In addition to the parking areas, maps of waters with public fishing rights are linked to this section;

(4) New York State Breeding Bird Atlas information, enabling users to select a location and view a list of bird species that are found in that area, or select a species and see the bird’s distribution; and

(5) Bird Conservation Areas, DEC Campgrounds, Lake Contour Maps, and the Northern/Southern Hunting Zone Line had previously been viewable using Google Earth and can now also be accessed using Google Maps.

DEC’s map viewers and other geographic information system (GIS) tools provide the public with important location-specific information about many of the programs DEC manages. In addition to the offerings above, the website also includes the locations of ecological zones, brownfields, dams, and bulk storage facilities. Instructions are available on the website for those needing information about how to download and use the Google Earth software. By using Google and leveraging existing technology that many people are already familiar with, DEC is able to reduce software development costs. In addition, the available data is compatible with other virtual globe software like ArcGIS Explorer and NASA’s WorldWind, enabling the public to use the data in many different contexts.

December 9, 2009

New York Power Authority Issues Request for Proposals for Development of Offshore Wind Power Projects in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario

On December 1, 2009, the New York Power Authority issued Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development of offshore wind power projects in New York State waters in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, potentially leading to the first wind power development of any kind in a fresh water body in the U.S.

The RFP seeks proposals for development of a utility scale project in the range of 120 MW to 500 MW. The Power Authority stated that it prefers projects that will benefit the New York economy and commence commercial operations in 2015.

According to the RFP, the due date for an optional notice of intent is March 20, 2010, and the due date for proposals is June 1, 2010 and any winning proposals are expected to be awarded by December 2010. The RFP states that the Power Authority will purchase the full output of any project under a long-term Power Purchase Agreement, which is scheduled to be negotiated by May 31, 2011.

December 10, 2009

New York City Passes Suite of Laws Addressing Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings

On December 9, 2009, the New York City Council passed an energy-efficiency legislative package for government, commercial, and residential buildings in New York City.

The bills would put into place a city plan announced in April 2009 by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings. According to New York City, the legislative package will save consumers $700 million annually in energy costs, create 17,880 jobs, and cut city CO2 emissions by 4.75%. According to the city, that would be the largest emissions reduction achieved by a single program in PlaNYC, the city’s long-term sustainability program.

Among the original provisions dropped in the approved legislation was a retrofitting measure in a bill requiring buildings subject to the law (those over 50,000 square feet, which accounts for half of the building square footage in the city) to conduct energy audits every 10 years. While the original version of the bill required both retrofitting and retro-commissioning to correct deficiencies found in an audit, the approved version requires private buildings only to carry out the retrocommissioning. Retrofitting involves capital alterations and installation of new equipment, while retro-commissioning includes noncapital improvements, or “fine tuning” and maintenance of existing systems. City-owned buildings larger than 10,000 square feet would still have to retrofit with “all reasonable capital improvements” within a year of filing an audit report, if the work would generate an energy cost-savings payback within seven years. The audit bill includes financial hardship exemptions from the upgrade requirements.

The other bills would require buildings subject to the law to benchmark their energy use and water consumption through EPA’s Portfolio Manager energy leadership program (Intro. No. 476-A); require large commercial buildings to carry out lighting upgrades by 2025 (Intro. No. 973-A); and create a city energy conservation construction code for building renovations that would, among other things, remove an exemption from the State Energy Code for renovations that include less than 50% of a building’s subsystems (Intro. No. 564-A).

December 16, 2009

Public Service Commission Approves More Than $120 Million in New Energy Efficiency Programs

On December 16, 2009, the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved more than $120 million in new energy efficiency programs for residential and commercial and industrial markets, including $14.7 million for low-income residential customers.

In its action, the PSC approved electric and natural gas energy efficiency programs for residential customers that will be administered by National Grid in both its upstate and downstate New York territories, Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Additionally, electric and natural gas commercial and industrial customers will be able to receive financial and technical assistance to help improve their energy efficiency as a result of efficiency programs approved that will be offered by NYSERDA, New York State Electric and Gas Corporation and Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation.

The decision also provides significant funding for low-income residential energy efficiency programs. To avoid duplicating program administration efforts and costs, the PSC decided that all low-income program funding for the lowest income sector, residential customers with income at or below 60 percent of the state median household income level, should be administered through NYSERDA’s EmPower NY program, and that it will be coordinated closely with the state’s existing Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which NYSERDA is already doing. To expand its assistance to low-income families, the PSC ordered additional funding for natural gas energy efficiency measures to supplement NYSERDA’s existing electric Assisted Home Performance with Energy Star program, which targets residential customers with incomes between 60 percent and 80 percent of the state’s median household income level. This group often can’t afford to participate in other residential programs, but has income that is above the eligibility criteria for low-income residential programs, such as EmPower NY and WAP.

For residential electric customers, Central Hudson will receive $2.26 million, designed to save 5,384 MWh; Con Edison will receive $12.46 million, designed to save 26,130 MWh; and National Grid upstate will receive $15.27 million, designed to save 54,525 MWh. The $30 million being invested is designed to save 86,039 MWh of electricity, enough to power 10,608 average-sized homes annually. For residential gas customers, NYSERDA will receive $43.56 million, designed to save 843,258 dekatherms. For low-income residential gas customers, NYSERDA will receive $14.7 million, designed to save 110,986 dekatherms.

Among the utilities, National Grid’s downstate operations will receive $7.15 million, designed to save 78,600 dekatherms. Meanwhile, National Grid’s upstate business will receive $3.22 million, designed to save 230,328 dekatherms. The $68.6 million being invested on residential gas energy efficiency improvements is designed to save 1.26 million dekatherms, enough natural gas to heat 127,333 average-sized homes annually.

For commercial and industrial gas customers, NYSERDA will receive $4.3 million for its High Performance New Construction program, designed to save 290,103 dekatherms. For commercial and industrial electric customers, NYSERDA will receive $11.1 million for its Benchmarking and Operations Efficiency program, designed to save 56,000 MWh. Among the utilities, NYSEG will receive $3.18 million, designed to save 8,270 MWh; and RG&E will receive $3.28 million, designed to save 8,270 MWh.

In total, more than $17.57 million is being set-aside for commercial and industrial electric customers, an effort designed to save 72,540 MWh, enough to power 8,944 average-sized homes annually. Natural gas savings for commercial and industrial will be enough to heat 31,845 average-sized homes.

On June 23, 2008, the PSC created the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) program to develop and encourage cost-effective energy efficiency programs. Since then, numerous proposals have been submitted in response to the initial order, some of which are combined electric and gas programs. The order approved on December 16, 2009 focuses on program proposals designed for residential and low-income residential customer segments as well as the commercial and industrial customer market segment through 2013.

Public Service Commission Expands State Renewable Portfolio Standard Goal to 30% by 2015

On December 16, 2009, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) expanded the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal to increase the proportion of renewable generation to 30 percent of projected electricity consumption by 2015. The new 30 percent goal for an RPS equates to a target of 10.4 million megawatt hours in 2015. Since the new goal reflects expected energy efficiency achievements under the PSC’s related initiative — the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) program — which seeks to reduce electricity usage in the State by 15 percent by 2015, the PSC’s action is consistent with achieving Governor David Paterson’s clean energy goal of 45 percent by 2015.

The PSC specially approved funding for the Main Tier, which includes wind, hydro and biomass resources. According to the PSC, while the costs associated with the Main Tier will peak in 2015, the expected increase in average customer bills for New Yorkers in 2015 after reflecting expected wholesale market price suppression will be well under one percent. To help attain this objective, the PSC authorized a main tier renewable resource solicitation of approximately $200 million to commence, as soon as practicable, in order to take advantage of certain expiring federal tax incentives, among other things.

This decision also provided for new funding up to $30 million annually large-scale downstate solar photovoltaic (PV), anaerobic digester and fuel cell projects to assure a level of geographical balance in the RPS program.

The RPS program is part of a broader set of programs designed to implement New York’s policy of clean energy investments. The PSC’s programs include the System Benefit Charge (SBC) programs administered by NYSERDA, the EEPS program, and RPS. Additionally, the revenues generated from auctioning CO2 emission allowances in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will at least in part go toward finding clean energy.

December 21, 2009

DEC Study Found that Some Bat Species Have Been Reduced By More Than 90 Percent As a Result of “White Nose Syndrome”

On December 16, 2009, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced that populations of some bat species have plummeted more than 90 percent in Northeast caves impacted by “White Nose Syndrome,” according to an extensive investigation by DEC. Surveying 23 caves at the epicenter of the bat die-off in early 2009, researchers found an alarming decline – 91 percent on average -- in the number of hibernating bats. The study included 18 caves in eastern New York, four in western Massachusetts and one in Vermont.

The study showed that not all species have reacted the same to White Nose Syndrome (WNS). Species that prefer warmer, wetter roosting spots than other bats have been impacted most severely. For example, the Little Brown bat has declined by an average of 93 percent (Little Browns account for 85 percent of all the bats that hibernate in the Northeast). A separate survey of the endangered Indiana bat showed it declined 53 percent on average. DEC bat specialist Alan Hicks said roost conditions may explain part but not all of the difference -- Indiana bats prefer a colder, dryer hibernating spot than others. Also, the survey of Indiana bats found stark contrasts between sites. For example, two former mines in Ulster County showed Indiana bat declines of 97 and 29 percent, respectively, with no obvious physical differences other than humidity.

DEC has been at the forefront of the bat investigation along with federal officials, wildlife agencies and researchers from around the nation, since the disease was first discovered in some New York caves in winter 2006-07. The most obvious symptom involved in the die-off is a white fungus encircling the noses of some, but not all, of the bats. Called “White Nose Syndrome,” (WNS) the fungus (Geomyces destructans) is a prime suspect as a causative agent, although not yet confirmed. Impacted bats deplete their fat reserves months before they would normally emerge from hibernation, and die as a result.

To document the degree of the die-off, DEC, with the help of officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), other states, academia and volunteers, began an extensive cave survey last January. This typically involved spending hours trekking deep into caves, snapping thousands of photographs of hibernating bats, then counting the individual bats to prepare a database. These counts were then compared to previous surveys.

Bats are particularly vulnerable to disease during hibernation because they congregate in clusters of 300 per square foot in some cave locations. The majority of hibernacula surveyed are found in eastern New York, especially in Schoharie and Albany counties. The 23 caves surveyed are estimated to have once harbored roughly 55,000 bats, approximately 10 percent of the regional bat population.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a recommendation to close access to caves that have not been impacted by WNS while the investigation continues. The recommendation covers caves in some two dozen states and is intended to reduce the potential spread of WNS while scientists work to better understand the cause and find a way to stop the mysterious disease. DEC is one of the many entities participating in a research effort coordinated by the USFWS (see http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wnsusfwsfundedresearch.html).

Among the numerous projects, scientists are: (1) working on identifying compounds to stop the fungus associated with WNS.; (2) looking at the cause and transmission of WNS and potential control measures; (3) studying the potential link between WNS and environmental contaminants; (4) assessing the impact of WNS on the genetic viability of Indiana bats; (5) developing a rapid WNS diagnostic test; and (5) continuing population surveys.

Also, in mid-October, DEC biologists helped set up video cameras in a mine where WNS has severely impacted hibernating bats. The U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service planned and funded this project. The video surveillance will monitor for aberrant behaviors of hibernating bats, such as excessive grooming, unusually long periods of activity, or winter flight. USGS researchers are assessing whether such behaviors could be the link between skin infection by the fungus and death by starvation after premature depletion of winter fat reserves. Preliminary results are expected by late spring 2010.

More information about DEC’s efforts with respect to WNS is available here.

December 23, 2009

Environmental Advocates’ Report Finds that $500 Million Has Been Diverted From the State’s Environmental Protection Fund in the Past Sixteen Years

On December 21, 2009, Environmental Advocates of New York released a report finding that approximately $500 million has been diverted from New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund into the State’s General Fund over the past 16 years.

The report stated that the fund has been “raided” by three governors and several state legislatures to balance the state budget. The report also said the fund has been subject to a “byzantine, unnecessarily complicated, and inefficient process” of funding projects. The report found that 25% of the funds originally appropriated to the Fund have been diverted to the General Fund since 2002, including $185 million over the last two years.

The Environmental Protection Fund was established in 1993 to provide state funding for municipal waste reduction and recycling, water quality, land acquisition, and parks. It is primarily supported by a tax on real estate transfers. According to the report, spending from the Fund is subject to an annual appropriation from the Legislature. The Legislature originally appropriated $255 million to the Fund in 2007-08 but reduced that amount to $205 million due to fiscal problems, the report said.

The report recommended that the funding process be streamlined by eliminating certain state agency reviews, changing the approval process established by the State Division of the Budget, and creating pre-applications and rolling application deadlines. It also recommended that the state pick up a larger share of projects that are jointly funded by local governments and nonprofit organizations. In addition, the report recommended that state agencies have adequate staff to administer the program.

December 28, 2009

RGGI Lawsuit Settled

On December 23, 2009, NYSERDA and DEC announced that a settlement had been reached concerning a lawsuit that had been brought by a New York state power company against several state agencies.

The lawsuit alleged that the agencies did not have authority from the New York legislature to implement the system and that the multi-state RGGI compact was unconstitutional without Congressional authorization. The complaint named Governor David Paterson, DEC, NYSERDA and the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) as defendants. According to NYSERDA and DEC, the settlement leaves intact the mechanisms to achieve the goals of the RGGI program.

Under the settlement, the plaintiff company, Indeck, will withdraw the lawsuit. Con Edison will pay Indeck and the other power producers in the lawsuit for the amount of pollution allowances that they do not receive directly from DEC from a pool of allowances that were set aside under the regulations for qualifying power generators bound by long-term contracts. In addition, NYSERDA will allot a portion of the RGGI proceeds to offset Con Edison’s costs.

According to the press release announcing the settlement, it is designed to be ratepayer neutral. For every dollar spent by Con Edison to purchase allowances, NYSERDA will match those dollars for investments by Con Edison in “smart grid” technologies and/or other system infrastructure improvements. These investments of approximately $2.6 million per year from 2009 through 2011 will offset any costs to customers. In addition, the settlement maintains both the number of set-aside allowances and the size of the emissions cap.

Under the settlement, the number of allowances directly allocated by DEC for free to power generators with long-term fixed price contracts will remain at 1.5 million tons and the emissions cap will remain unchanged. As such, the settlement does not increase emissions and ensures that under RGGI nearly all pollution allowances are auctioned off in a market-based system, rather than given away for free.

December 30, 2009

New York City Issued First Assessment of Community Air Quality at Street Level

On December 15, 2009, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the New York City Health Department issued its first comprehensive survey of street-level air quality at 150 neighborhood locations. The New York City Community Air Survey, conducted as part of the city’s PlaNYC long-term environmental sustainability plan, found wide variations in wintertime air quality across the city, with the highest levels of pollution occurring in areas with heavier traffic and areas with higher concentrations of oil-burning boilers in commercial and residential buildings.

The study found that Manhattan and the more built-up, high-traffic locations in the other boroughs have the city’s highest particulate levels, as well as higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and elemental carbon. According to the city, future reports will assess other patterns in air quality and relate them to seasonal changes in fuel use and atmospheric conditions. The Health Department collaborated in the survey with the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College and the City University of New York.

About December 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Envirosphere in December 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.