Assembly names Cahill energy chairman

Newly appointed New York Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, said Friday th

Newly appointed New York Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, said Friday that he supports “fuel neutrality” for a possible reauthorization of New York’s expired Article 10 fast-track power plant siting law.

“I have no problems with fuel neutrality. However fuel neutrality … means that, whatever the fuel, it would have to meet the strictest of environmental standards, so fuel neutrality may actually impose greater environmental restrictions than having different standards for different fuels,” Cahill said. “There’s no reason to be concerned, particularly, about the fuel source for hydroelectric power plants. On the other hand there is great reason to be concerned for a coal-based fuel.”

Cahill was appointed to chair the Assembly’s standing committee on energy Wednesday by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, nearly eight months after then-assemblyman and energy committee chairman Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, was appointed president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Cahill never served on the energy committee prior to his appointment but said he was a part of the Article 10 conference committee between the Assembly and the state Senate at the end of the last legislative session. He said although that conference did not produce a bill, progress has been made on the issue.

“There was the position that was taken on one side of the argument that was … sort of a site-at-any-cost position and on the other side the extreme position was there is almost no reason to site a power plant because they are all environmentally insensitive, and we whittled away at those two extremes and got very close to the middle,” Cahill said.

That middle solution could meet Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s stated goal of bringing back Article 10 to increase New York’s energy supply, but only doing so in a way that addresses carbon dioxide emissions linked by some scientists to global climate change.

Cahill said the two sources of increased energy supply he wants to promote the most are renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and conservation.

“The tax code can be used to benefit individuals that take measures to conserve energy,” Cahill said.

Gavin Donohue, president and CEO of the Independent Power Producers of NY, said New York already has conservation programs in place which raise electricity costs for consumers.

“We’re already doing a ton of stuff on energy conservation programs and the rate payers are paying for it, so we don’t want to do something that exacerbates the rates people are paying,” he said.

New York state has the third-highest average retail price for electricity of any state in the union, 72 percent higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The average retail price of electricity in New York state is 15.27 cents per kilowatt hour. The national average price is 8.90 cents per kwh. Only Hawaii, 20.72 cents, and Massachusetts, 15.45 cents, pay more on average per kwh.

Donohue said his organization represents some wind power farms but wind and solar are expensive and not currently capable of producing enough electricity to meet New York state’s demand.

New York state received only 1.8 percent of its electricity generation in 2006 from renewable energy sources.

Cahill said he does not favor “so-called clean coal” power plants.

“The strongest advocates [for cleaner coal] are giving it a second look. In the context of a fuel neutrality approach any fuel could be considered, some fuels may be determined to be too noxious to meet our standards,” he said. “I don’t know that there is good science upon the complete cycle of any coal fuel that would be consistent with the goal of cleaning our environment.”

General Electric, as part of its ecomagination initiative to produce technology that curtails CO2 emissions, has developed the GE Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle. According to the company’s Web site, the system reduces pollutants by as much as 50 percent compared with a conventional coal power plant, including 95 percent of mercury emissions.

Donohue said he looks forward to working with Cahill whom he called a personal friend. He said a fast-track power plant siting law with fuel neutrality could be very encouraging to power plant companies. However, he also expressed concern for Cahill’s apparent problems with cleaner coal power plants.

“The reality of the situation is clean coal is a new technology and if you want a fuel neutral bill, like he said, then that should be part of it because if you meet the emission [standards] you should get your permit,” Donohue said.

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