2018-03-28 / Front Page

Queens College Business Breakfast

By Thomas Cogan
The Queens College Business Forum’s third breakfast of the 2017-18 year was held last Friday at its usual site on the fourth floor of the Student Union building.  A moderated panel discussion featured four environmentalists and the school’s dean of social sciences addressing the topic, “Sustainability and the City.”  

“The city” should bring more than just New York to mind, as the panelists were quick to demonstrate.  One of them opened the meeting by describing a program for five cities in New York state, in which light-emitting diode (LED) installations were advancing the cause of lighting.  That could save the public money and spare it a measure of environmental degradation.  Solar power’s advancement was also discussed, as was funding and the idea, bound to be controversial, of polluter fees.

The panel, introduced by Michael Wolfe, dean of the Queens College social science department, was led off by Jesse Scott, manager for customer business development and program manager for the Five Cities Program of the New York Power Authority.  He functions as liaison between the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Yonkers, which were beneficiaries of LED installations—though Scott said the whole project wasn’t as extensive as he would have liked it to be.  (In New York city it is quite extensive.)

Annel Hernandez, resiliency planner with NYC’s Environmental Justice Alliance, was next.  She is an advocate for equitable investment in coastal protection, green infrastructure and renewable energy.  Her opening statement emphasized the need to bring more people of color into the picture. 

Rob Crauderueff, founder and chief operating officer of Crauderueff & Associates, works on green development projects in New York and other parts of the country.  He said his chief watchwords are “implementation, improvisation and scale.”

Tria Case is director of sustainability and energy conservation at the City University of New York.  She said that CUNY alone uses 1 percent of the power generated in the city and is working to reduce its consumption.  She said that a decade ago the complaint about solar energy was that it should be better developed; or in other words, with all these rooftops, why is there so little solar?  Since then, solar energy has grown significantly, as has the development of battery power, she said.

Wolfe asked where the science can be found in a program of urban sustainability.  Crauderueff said that close to a decade ago, drawing New York city officials into such a program was a bit difficult.  He went to the City Council to explain it and development of a storm-water program followed in 2009.  The best science in the world has to be translated to everyday use, he said. 

Hernandez said she was at a conference in Canada the previous week, and there a lot of information was shared.  A question asked of the visitor from New York was, where is the city most vulnerable?  In the water, of course, she answered.  The best management strategies for storm surges have risen to the status of policy.  Right now, the big worry to be addressed is food distribution in the event of a great weather emergency.  Everyone should expect such an emergency will happen eventually, she said; the next one won’t be the first.

Case again indicated that reduction of energy consumption is the big public question in New York.  She said that a program of alerting city buildings when they are nearing a critical energy peak could be effective, and further development of batteries is crucial.  She said there must be an exponential growth of renewable energy to compensate for the equally necessary reduction of fossil fuel consumption.  

Wolfe asked how other cities are coming along and heard Hernandez answer that the world pays attention to how New York goes forward for sustainability.  But Scott answered that the National Resources Defense Council rated New York number two, behind Boston, in attaining sustainability, but that its rating was only 70 percent—a “C” at best—and that other cities lag behind these two.  If New York is seen as a model for others, it’s an imperfect one.

Wolfe then asked what it will take to make an urban sustainability successful.  The answer from Hernandez was broad and at one point brought up an idea that would certainly generate resistance.  She said that a coastal protection program would cost $20 billion to make power systems better able to handle weather occurrences, of which extreme heat provides more of a strain than storms do. 

She mentioned New York Renews, a group with an agenda of social justice and sustainable energy.  New York Renews dares to bring up a “modest” pollution fee “that begins at $35 per ton of emissions and increases gradually.”  The group says it “would generate about $7 billion in revenue every year over the first ten years” to fund clean energy programs, grow the local economy and uplift “communities throughout the state.”   Getting that through any nameable legislature would be tough.

In contrast, Wolfe asked if working with big owners in an educational way about sustainable energy would succeed, through suggesting, for instance, that they adopt a 1,000 megawatt standard by 2030, or streamline programs for delivering technology upstate.  It would be the effort to win the trust of the people you’re dealing with.  Scott said he tries to bring the public to the table, though he must work with banks and other vital businesses too.  The educational part would involve going to meetings and giving them the gospel—the good news, after all—of sustainability, such as LED in public and in the home.

Case’s good news was that “We’re getting smarter” about adjusting to the energy of post-fossil fuel.  Crauderueff said the future is in green districts, such as Hunts Point in the Bronx, where the impact will be on both industrial and residential sectors.  He said it’s a matter of maintaining effective principles, project after project.  Hernandez said Hunts Point is building a waterfront program and so is Sunset Park in Brooklyn.  In the latter place, she specified, offshore wind power will soon be a vital part of the sustainability drive.

Scott put in a word for Smart Street Lighting, a national campaign that he called a platform for great social change.  He did admit what some critics have said, that it could involve such investigative implements as facial recognition and voiceprints, but added that a NYCHA spokesperson said good lighting on its property could reduce crime considerably.

A question from the audience about federal money ended the meeting.  The inquirer said he “didn’t want to get political,” but might funding from Washington be possible?  Case replied, saying that New York is mainly concerned with what New York, both city and state, can do for itself.





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