Thursday, December 30, 2004
Clarify energy rules in state
Before another town agrees to power some of its buildings and
streets with clean energy, New York should get rid of any ambiguity
in state-bidding laws that could impede these excellent efforts.
The Town of Wappinger has just joined the list of Hudson Valley
communities that have agreed to purchase some alterative energy
at a slightly higher price than more polluting forms of power.
It's a good investment in the environment -- and
the only way these alternative forms of energy are going to get
a foothold in the market. As more alternative energy sources are
used, it will lessen the demand from coal-burning plants that
produce emissions linked to global warming and acid rain.
Wappinger's plans certainly won't soak taxpayers.
It has signed a seven-year contract to pay $2,000 a year to get
about 25 percent of its energy from a private wind power company
in Pennsylvania. Now, collectively, more than a dozen Dutchess
and Ulster County communities will pay an additional $65,000 each
year to get energy from wind power.
But a change in state law could open up more opportunities.
Dutchess County, for example, pulled back on its plan to spend
about $27,000 more for the alternative fuel next year. It cited,
in part, the state comptroller's reservations about such purchases.
The comptroller's office has suggested the municipalities could
be in violation of competitive-bidding procedures. Yet, perhaps
realizing the greater good here, the comptroller's office has
not offered any written legal opinion on the matter.
Lawyers representing some of the municipalities
say the differences between the forms of energy are so acute,
they aren't subject to the bidding process. Nevertheless, the
state shouldn't wait for a test case. New York laws already enable
localities to buy recycled products at slightly higher prices
than non-recycled goods. That's because state lawmakers understand
the importance of developing those markets. They need to provide
the same flexibility when local governments want to purchase wind,
solar and other forms of renewable power.
One bill, offered by state Assemblywoman
Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, would achieve that goal, but it also
would include an important cap -- municipalities couldn't choose
the alternative energy source if it cost an additional 15 percent
or more than a traditional source. That's a sound safeguard. More
importantly, the bill would empower more municipalities to help
foster clean-energy initiatives. The state shouldn't wait to give
local governments better guidance.