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Grassroots Bulletin

September Newsletter

Remapping the East Coast Following Sandy 


Last month, after the Obama administration released its Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force progress report, federal agencies announced plans for remapping significant parts of the East Coast where Hurricane Sandy altered seafloors and shorelines, destroyed buildings, and disrupted millions of lives.  The new maps could impact future construction, the location of fueling facilities and how utilities plan for and invest in the grid.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are using emergency supplemental funds provided by Congress to survey coastal waters and shorelines to update East Coast land maps. The areas to be remapped will take into account on-going discussions with state and local officials and be based on the after-effects of Sandy.

Using ships, aircraft, and satellites, the agencies will measure water depths, look for submerged debris left over from the storm, and record altered shorelines.

Earlier this spring, a NOAA navigation team used high-tech surveying equipment to search for underwater storm debris and map the depths surrounding Liberty Island, New York Harbor and Ellis Island.

That data will soon be available to local, state, and federal agencies as well as researchers and the general public. The information can be used for making building repairs, and planning for future storms and coastal resilience.

For its part, USGS will also go about collecting very high-resolution elevation data that will be used to supplement NOAA’s work and support hurricane rebuilding activities, watershed planning and resource management.  The elevation data will be a part of a new initiative, called the 3D Elevation Program, to systematically acquire high-resolution elevation data across the continental United States.

In June, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) released preliminary flood insurance maps for New York City, which replaced advisory maps published just after Hurricane Sandy.  The new maps double the number of city structures in flood zones to more than 67,000 beyond the last map update, which occurred in 2007 and was based on 1983 data.

This mapping process is now subject to a public comment period, in which property owners and others will have the opportunity to appeal before they are finalized.  FEMA anticipates this process will wrap up sometime in 2015.

Energy Storage Battery Technology Advancing in New York   


In August, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $19 million incentive program to promote the purchase of battery-electric commercial trucks and energy-efficient vehicles.

Under the program, $9 million for plug-in electric vehicle vouchers will be offered in 30 counties around New York State that did not meet federal clean air standards.

The other $10 million will fund projects in New York City related to compressed natural gas and hybrid-electric vehicles, as well as retrofitting diesel engines with emission-control devices.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is responsible for administering the program and vehicle manufacturers. Dealers and retrofit providers are expected to pass on incentive savings to buyers.

Meanwhile, Urban Electric Power, NYSERDA and the City University of New York (CUNY) have announced the opening of a new energy storage research and manufacturing facility in West Harlem for advanced zinc anode rechargeable battery systems that can be used in plug-in electric vehicles.

The $6.1 million, 5,000-square-foot facility will provide research and development as well as assembly and testing of the rechargeable batteries.  Urban Electric Power (UEP) has an exclusive license to this battery technology, which was developed at the CUNY Energy Institute of which Con Edison is a partner.

UEP’s battery technologies are used to increase gas mileage in automobiles, reduce electric system strain during peak usage, and to help integrate renewable energy sources onto the grid such as solar and wind power.  The batteries can be charged during off-peak hours when generation costs are low and used to supply energy during the day when costs are higher.

The new facility is located in the three-acre Manhattanville Factory District currently under construction in West Harlem. The project is part of the redevelopment effort and is expected to create 64 jobs. The Factory District’s abandoned industrial buildings had been vacant until the recent mixed-use redevelopment plan was put in place to create a home for technology, new media, arts and culture, and other commercial enterprises.

The Race to Lead New York City     

New York’s registered Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls on September 10 to vote in primary races throughout the city.  One of the most prominent and talked about elections is the race to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Mayor Bloomberg’s three-term limit will come to a close at the end of 2013. Eleven candidate hopefuls are currently vying to be New York City’s next mayor.

Of the eleven candidates, seven are competing for the Democratic nomination in a continually shifting race according to polls.  A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Bill de Blasio, New York City’s Public Advocate in the lead with 36 percent among likely Democratic primary voters.  City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson followed with 21 and 20 percent, respectively.  In a previous NBC-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll from earlier this month, de Blasio and Quinn were tied at 24 percent with Thompson trailing at 18 percent of likely voters.

Other contenders for the Democratic ticket are Anthony Weiner, a former Congressman; John Liu, New York City’s Comptroller; Sal Albanese, a former NYC Councilman; and Erick Salgado, a reverend on Staten Island.   

To win the nomination, a candidate must secure 40 percent of the vote.  If 40 percent of the vote isn’t reached, a run-off will be held on Tuesday, October 1 between the top two candidates. Given current polling numbers, many experts and political commentators are predicting a runoff. 

Among the pool of Republican candidates, Joe Lhota, the former Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) chairman, led with 33 percent, followed by rival John Catsimatidis, a billionaire businessman, at 22 percent, and George McDonald, head of a nonprofit, at 12 percent. The margin of error in the GOP portion of the poll was plus or minus 8.5 percentage points. 

On November 5th, the winners of each primary will compete with independent candidates on the ballot to be New York’s next mayor.    

A Conversation with Assembly Energy Chair Amy Paulin   

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin is now serving her fifth term as representative of the 88th New York State Assembly District, having been first elected in November, 2000. She is one of the Legislature's most active members, sponsoring 16 bills that were passed in both houses during the past year. She ranks in the top 5% of legislators for passing bills.

A former Executive Director of My Sisters' Place, a non-profit agency which assists victims of domestic violence, Amy Paulin has long been an advocate for the needs of women and children. Named a Leader in the Fight against Domestic Violence by the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV), Assemblywoman Paulin authored landmark legislation, signed into law, that lengthens orders of protection in both the civil and criminal courts to assist those victimized by domestic violence.

Paulin has been a proponent of gun control and played an integral part in shaping the historic gun legislation that Governor Cuomo signed into law in January 2013.

Assemblywoman Paulin currently chairs the Assembly's committee on Energy. She has also chaired the committee on Children and Families, and serves on the Education, Health, and Higher Education committees.

Amy Paulin was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and holds a Master's degree and has completed doctoral course work in Criminal Justice from SUNY-Albany. Assemblywoman Paulin resides in Scarsdale with her husband, Ira Schuman. They have three children.

With a full legislative session behind you as Chair of the Assembly Committee on Energy, what would you say are some of the more pressing energy policy items facing New York? 

One of the pressing issues facing all of us is increasing the use of renewable energy. A few other states have developed innovative programs to encourage renewable energy, whereas New York relies almost exclusively on the net-metering program. We should be looking at all innovative programs to encourage electric customers to install renewable energy systems. 

New York also has very demanding power needs, especially in the downstate area. We need to expand the transmission system and make the grid more reliable. The proposed Energy Highway is one way to help bring more power downstate.  In addition, the creation of the New York Transmission Company (NY Transco) to jointly develop, build and own new transmission projects will help to expand the state’s infrastructure in a cost-effective and coordinated way.

Hurricanes Sandy and Irene have highlighted the need to protect and invest in energy infrastructure to prepare for the next possible superstorm.  What are your thoughts on the subject post Sandy?

Hurricanes Sandy and Irene demonstrated how dependent we are on electricity, since technology is now such an integral part of our daily lives. It is critical that the infrastructure is reliable. Above-ground transmission lines are especially vulnerable, and flooding causes a myriad of other problems. With climate change, we can expect to see an increase in severe weather, so it is imperative to make these improvements now.

President Obama is proposing strict regulations on generators in order to cut emissions, Western New York coal plants are closing or in danger of closing, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has proposed a separate capacity zone that if allowed to go forward could raise energy prices in your district.  How do we balance protection for the environment and costs with reliability and the needs of localities?

It will always be a challenge to balance the need to provide reliable electric service with protecting New York’s environment in a cost-effective manner. In the past decade, New Yorkers have achieved gains from various energy efficiency standards and programs and renewable energy initiatives adopted by the state and federal governments. The driving factors behind the need for greater efficiency and renewable electricity are both economic and environmental. Peak-time, marginally priced electricity is often produced by the dirtiest sources. Greater efficiency by consumers and utilities and mechanisms to incentivize the construction of cleaner, more efficient plants are expensive investments, but ones that may reduce costs in the long run. Any actions taken by the state as well as federal regulators must be weighed against dramatic price increases. This requires coordination at all levels of government to plan accordingly for the coming years when New York’s homes and businesses will require more electricity.

What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as the New York State Energy Committee Chair?

When I was appointed chair of the Energy Committee in January I made a point of emphasizing that I would do all I could to help New York State and its residents find more efficient energy sources, help keep energy costs down and work toward making ours the model on which other states would base their energy plans. I believe in the seven months since my appointment I have taken steps in that direction, not only through legislation but through research. And, I’m pleased with the open dialogue I have with Con Edison on a variety of issues, working to keep them informed of what we as legislators are doing while staying up-to-date on what they are doing for their customers.

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