The great energy empire of the twentieth century was built upon the back of petroleum: condensed sunshine. The energy of the twenty-first century will increasingly come from sources that, while not as powerful as fossil fuels, are much cleaner. The Empire State has made great strides, attempting to outpace the rest of the country in the race to establish a healthy mix of conventional and alternative energies. Even though some of the ideas seem far-fetched to those outside of the industry, there are plenty of projects that are lighting up New York homes right now. Best of all, there are plenty of projects on the bright horizon.

Hydroelectric power is not a viable option in many places in the country. New York State, however, has the great benefit of having Niagara Falls within its borders. (The other half is on the Canadian side, of course.) New Yorkers benefit from electricity generated by plants located near the falls. The New York Power Authority notes that its Niagara facility, which is located approximately 4.5 miles from the falls, is the home of two large power plants. The Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant boasts 13 turbines; when water flows through these turbines, spinning magnets create electricity that is transferred to the electric grid. The Lewiston Pump-Generating Plant features 12 pump turbines that do much the same thing. The movement of up to 375,000 gallons of water per second creates 2.4 million kilowatts of New York electricity; plenty to power thousands of New York homes.

As any New Yorker knows, the state is not exactly the sunniest place in the world. Thanks to advances in solar cell technology and the hard work of non-profits and the legislature, New York has a chance to make solar electricity a big part of its energy profile. The New York State Senate and Assembly are working on two bills (S.7093a and A.11004, respectively) that would put a solar power mandate on New York’s utilities. The goal of the Solar Jobs Act? To ensure that 2.5% of New York electricity sales are generated by solar by the year 2025. As Ucilia Wang, writing for Daily Finance, points out: turning to renewable energies is a nationwide trend. If New York doesn’t keep up, it will be left behind.

If you’ve spent any time on the shore of Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, you know that the wind off of the lakes can be punishing. That’s a bad thing if you’re trying to walk the lake shore in Oswego in January. It’s a wonderful thing if you’re interested in building a wind farm. As Martin LaMonica from CNET reports, five companies have submitted proposals that would allow them to begin construction of wind farms on the shores of Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. These turbines are safe and would be constructed offshore. The earliest New Yorkers could be getting their juice from these kinds of facilities would be 2015.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is a state agency that “invests in renewable energy through programs that provide funds to emerging businesses for product and business development, product marketing assistance, incubators for start up industry and other support. What does this mean? NYSERDA helps individuals and agencies who are developing projects to help the state meet its goal of receiving 25% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2013.

While there are many criticisms of moving toward renewable energy resources, the positive benefits are clear. Americans would benefit greatly from increasing their energy independence; every watt of energy that is generated by native sources helps allay the need to import fuel. Even better, alternative energy creates jobs. The Solar Jobs Act, for example, would create over 22,000 jobs through 2025 while creating $20 billion in revenue. The cost to residential customers? Only 39 cents per month.

Whether it is hydroelectric, wind or solar, New Yorkers will have to follow the lead of the rest of the United States and get on the renewable energy bandwagon. This is a big job that requires individuals to work with their government as well as their power utilities. After all of the hard work, however, we’ll all reap the benefits of clean electricity and a much more advanced energy infrastructure.

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