David Bruns studies the energy monitor mounted on the wall of the apartment building we’ve just entered.
“Even though it’s brutally cold out, we’re producing almost 30 kilowatts of power,” he observes, as he looks at the TV-like screen. “That’s a lot.”
Bruns is the developer and owner of netZero Village in Rotterdam, a 156-unit apartment complex that is powered solely by renewable energy and produces as much energy as it consumes.
There are solar panels on the roofs, and the buildings are oriented and designed to take advantage of the low-lying winter sun. Each building contains a solar hot water system and is extremely well-insulated.
In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the state to enact a Green New Deal to combat climate change.
His goal is a lofty one: making New York’s electricity 100 percent carbon neutral by 2040 and ultimately eliminating the state’s carbon footprint altogether.
Doing this will require a huge investment in renewable energy such as wind and solar, as only about one-third of New York’s in-state electricity generation came from renewable sources in 2017, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Skeptics have long questioned whether the U.S. can meet its electricity needs with renewables alone, and many believe a carbon-free future is the stuff of fantasy.
I’ll be the first to admit that eliminating New York’s carbon footprint won’t be easy.
But it is possible, and there’s already an example of how to do it on a sizable scale, right here in Schenectady County.
“The whole reason I built this was to show that it’s something that can be done,” said Bruns, a former electrical engineer at General Electric. “If we can do netZero developments in the Northeast, we can do them anywhere.”
netZero has proved popular, and Bruns has embarked on his second netZero development, a 248-unit apartment complex located right down the road called Solara. (Full disclosure: My husband, an electrician, has worked on both of these projects, which is why I’m aware of them.)
Bruns hopes more developers get on the netzero bandwagon, and I do, too.
Transitioning to renewable power sources is a necessity in a world that is already experiencing the effects of climate change — more droughts, wildfires and downpours, as well as rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities.
If we don’t address the problem, it will get worse, and Cuomo’s push for a Green New Deal is a step in the right direction.
Of course, the governor didn’t invent the Green New Deal, and if people have heard the term it’s likely because newly elected U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-Queens, has called for one, too.
The idea has been around for a while — Howie Hawkins, a three-time gubernatorial candidate with the state Green Party’s endorsement, has been calling for a Green New Deal since 2010.
In a recent op-ed, Hawkins criticized Cuomo’s Green New Deal for not going far enough, writing, “The reality is that electricity accounts for only about 20 percent of New York’s carbon emissions. We must also zero out the other 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation, buildings, industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors.”
Mark Dunlea, a Rensselaer County resident who ran for state Comptroller on the Green Party line, told me that the state needs to move faster on climate change.
One bill that stands a much stronger chance of reaching the governor’s desk now that the Senate is controlled by Democrats is the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would require the state to generate half its electricity with renewables by 2030, and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“That’s not sufficient,” Dunlea said.
The real question, Dunlea said, is whether “new York can go 100 percent renewable by 2030. If we try for 2030, maybe we hit 2039.”
Among other things, the state should require that all new buildings emit zero carbon emissions and that all new residential buildings under three stories feature solar technology, he said.
Building properties that are powered by renewables and produce the same amount of energy they consume is something that can be done, right now, and Bruns’ apartment complexes model how to do it.
Far more difficult will be addressing carbon emissions from transportation — i.e. cars and buses — and the older buildings that many of us live and work in.
One writer, Ryan Cooper at The Week, has suggested that developing a Green New Deal for electric cars and buses is easier than it sounds; Bruns is already planning ahead, and both netZero Village and Solara have free car-charging stations for residents.
Transforming how we drive, heat and power our homes and businesses won’t be easy.
But it’s eminently achievable, as those who live in Bruns’ apartments can attest.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.