2015 brought positive and negative changes to New York energy industry

Jan 4, 2016

The state of New York's energy market changed dramatically in 2015. As natural gas and renewable sources took center stage, nuclear power sources like Oswego County's FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant were squeezed.

Those changes are visible at a new exhibit in the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse. The exhibit at MOST includes multiple interactive activities that allow young minds see how energy is produced. It focuses mainly on renewable sources of energy. There's a solar wheel that can be turned to see how the various ways the sun produces energy. And if you wave your hand over a sensor in the wind turbine exhibit, a light will shine on various homes and businesses to show what it can power.

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News

Braden Gilberti and his mother Paulette used a pump to light up different sections of a hydro plant.  Gilberti said she is happy that the exhibit features newer alternatives for her son's future.

"We have to look at things that are going to be healthier and safer for us and make it a better place to live.," Gilberti said.

MOST President Larry Leatherman said the exhibit is vastly different from the one designed 10 years ago which focused on carbon-based energy.

"The world has changed dramatically in these last 10 years," Leatherman said. "One day we said, 'look we really ought to be looking at what’s the future?' Energy conservation. It’s going to really important."

Melanie Littlejohn is a regional executive with National Grid, which helped pay for the exhibit. She said the older plans were scrapped and start from scratch.

"What we wanted to do through this project was show the evolution of energy and the role that energy plays in our lives," Littlejohn said. "When we think about the future, the future is now and that’s what the exhibit represents."

The changes to New York's energy market are quite visible too. More solar rooftops came online in 2015 as New York state sponsored local Solarize initiatives to help increase the spread of solar panels. The state also contributed millions more for its green bank, which will fund clean energy initiatives and businesses. And in December, the governor ordered the state public service commission to start enforcing his goal of 50 percent renewable energy in the state by 2030.

"The reforming the energy vision plan makes New York an energy leader," said professor Peter Wilcoxen, director of Syracuse University's Center for Environmental Policy and Administration. Wilcoxen said 2015 was a significant year for the clean energy movement, but New York still has a couple of lingering questions as it moves into 2016.

"Whether New York will ever consider allowing hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and what, if anything, is going to be done to help nuclear plants remain open in the face of really low electricity prices caused by cheap natural gas," Wilcoxen asked.

The rise in cheap natural gas and more renewables in the market has hurt nuclear power plants. Entergy this year announced it would close the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, which is expected to close by early 2017. Wilcoxen said that nuclear may not be renewable, but it does have a role to play as a bridge to the future.

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News

"Over the long term as the country gets more serious about climate change, nuclear power is not a technology of the past," Wilcoxen said. "It is going to play an important role in keeping carbon emissions in the energy sector low."