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Is Bloomberg’s New York energy plan dreamy or dubious?


With about 500 days left in his term, New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, would like to see ocean windfarms, rooftop wind turbines and solar panels, and more geothermal heat systems peppered throughout the city. As the fifth anniversary of the great Northeast blackout nears, Bloomberg chided the city and utilities on Tuesday for the lack of progress made in the intervening years on improving infrastructure and security of the nation’s electric grid.

In particular, the windy coasts of Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island could potentially cover 10 percent of the city’s electricity demand, according to sources quoted by the New York Times. Bloomberg hopes to encourage developers to look at renewable energy opportunities throughout the city, and he’s issued a request for expressions of interest, with a tight deadline of September 19.

But of course it’s red-tape-happy New York we’re talking about, and even with renewable energy, grid instability, and oil prices on the mind, some developers and architects are calling the Bloomberg proposal a “nightmare.” The Globe & Mail even goes so far as to refer to him as Mayor Quixote.

Bloomberg’s proposal, which leans heavily on offshore wind and turbines on buildings and bridges, faces considerable obstacles. For one thing, skyscrapers in New York weren’t built to withstand the vibrations and extra weight of those turbines, and architects and insurers would have to perform either extensive testing or retrofitting to guarantee that the buildings windmill-ready. Nor have many sites in the city been surveyed for their wind potential, so the actual energy generation that these turbines would contribute might not make their installation worth the price.

Equal parts dreamer and hard-edged realist, Bloomberg fended off criticism, saying that all proposals should be considered before some are discarded as too fanciful. According to sources quoted in the NYT, some solar panel installations in New York could pay for themselves in four years, compared with 25 years for small wind turbines. Bloomberg also acknowledged that some of his ideas, such as the offshore wind farm, were probably more realistic than others.

And perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss an ambitious mayor who unveils grand new plans as his days in office are dwindling. He’s installed digital clocks counting down to the end of his term in some employees’ offices, to push them to work with a sense of urgency towards accomplishing his goals.