Keeping the Lights on in New York State

Americans are used to turning on the lights with little hassle. We have come to expect our power supply to be continuous and without interruption. But as many in the energy sector know, electricity doesn't just magically appear in your home. It takes hard work, planning and access to resources to keep our outlets working.

It's been nine years since the massive blackout that darkened the Northeast and Midwest of the United States and parts of Canada. Millions were stuck in the dark for more than 12 hours; some were left without power for days. Political commentators openly wondered about how easy it would be for terrorists to attack our country and how vulnerable our national security was.

The blackout was a wakeup call about the long-term reliability of our electricity grid. It also raised questions about how we are going to power our economy for the 21st Century.

Unfortunately, collective opposition to every new form of energy threatens the reliability and affordability of our electricity supply, especially in New York.

This past week, the Lyme town council, in Upstate New York, voted 4 to 1 to require strict zoning regulations for wind farms, a move that will effectively stop windmills from being erected in the town.

Wind is among the most environmentally friendly energy forms around yet communities both upstate and downstate have resoundingly shot down recent proposals. In 2005, a proposal to build an offshore wind project on the South Shore of Long Island was torpedoed. The project was opposed by nearly a thousand Long Islanders who likened the windmills -- which would have been constructed very far out in the Atlantic Ocean -- to "visual pollution."

The end result -- a renewable energy source that has been embraced by virtually every environmental group was nixed and power companies supplying local residents continue to use fossil fuels. Opponents in Lyme used similar language claiming the windmills will impact the "viewshed."

In New York State, it takes a minimum of five years to secure approval and construct a new power plant and investors are growing more and more reluctant to want to do business in our state.

To make matters worse, there are well-funded and vocal groups who want to close existing power plants. As an ardent supporter of the Indian Power Energy Center -- a power plant in Westchester County -- I have regularly met opponents who want to shut it down immediately. Indian Point produces 2,000 megawatts of power, but some opponents are flippant about what it would take to replace that amount of energy. Rarely do you find anyone talking about the next step.

New York State is at a cross roads with regards to energy and with the fourth highest residential electricity rates, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, we need to start making decisions now about how we're going to stay powered for the rest of the 21st Century.

We can be reasonably confident that the lights will stay on for the next five to 10 years, but after that it is anyone's guess. With groups opposed to nuclear, natural gas, wind, hydropower, solar and virtually every other form of energy, we are beginning to miss the big picture here. It takes a lot of hard work to keep the lights on. By promoting domestic energy production, we reduce our reliance on foreign fuel sources and bolster our national security.

Cheap and reliable home electricity is not a right enshrined in the Constitution. If we don't take steps towards improving our in-state electricity production, our kids and grandkids may end up sitting in the dark.