Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Renewable Energy for Climate Smart Communities

Tapping Abundant Renewable Energy Resources

Aerial view of rooftop with solar array with the Mayor and Jim Yienger
The City of Watervliet took advantage of state
and federal incentives to install a large solar
array that reduces the city's operating costs.

Renewable energy sources currently provide nearly one-fifth of all the electricity used in New York State, and also help to directly heat buildings and hot water and fuel our transportation.

But the state's abundant renewable resources are capable of supplying a much larger share of the energy we need - and at the same time reducing pollution, saving consumer dollars and creating a clean energy economy for our future.

Today, most of New York's renewable energy is delivered as electric power . Huge commercial hydro plants still supply the bulk of our renewable electricity, but the past decade has seen the rapid growth of solar and wind power. Other types of renewable energy currently in use include ethanol biofuel (for transportation) and various forms of biomass (mostly wood burned for space heating and hot water).

The Many Uses of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy technologies shrink both carbon footprints and energy bills. By replacing imported fossil fuels, renewables help to keep energy dollars in local economies.

Grey receptacle by side of street with solar panel on top and a hand opening it up to throw garbage away
Solar panels provide
free on-site power for this
compactor on the street
in Albany. Compacted
trash requires less
frequent stops by trucks
to empty street receptacles,
saving fuel and collector time.

A decade of sustained public and private investment has increased the availability of renewable energy in New York, with large- and small-scale solar photovoltaic and wind installations now supplying growing amounts of power to the electric grid, meeting more than two percent of the state's total electricity need and reducing consumer electric bills.

Further, renewable technologies are demonstrating potential to support a thriving clean energy economy and help New York's local governments meet their energy needs.

  • Several sewage treatment and landfill facilities are running on electricity generated by burning methane-rich biogas, a by-product produced on-site from wastes.
  • Biodiesel- and electric-powered vehicles are reducing GHG emissions from municipal fleets, commercial delivery vehicles and private cars.
  • Established and relatively inexpensive technologies like solar hot water, passive solar heating and natural lighting are reducing energy use public and private buildings.
  • Lighted road signs, compacting trash receptacles and other remote applications powered by renewable energy are reducing communities' need for portable diesel-fueled power generators.
  • Leasing rooftops or land to renewable energy developers is enhancing revenues for governments, businesses and individuals, and local businesses are taking advantage of new opportunities in renewable energy equipment installation and maintenance.
  • As weather extremes seem to be occurring more often, people are considering whether local renewables could help increase community security by maintaining at least minimal heat and electricity during power system outages.

For the future, research holds promise for renewable biofuels from waste and algae, as well as new battery technologies to expand grid storage capacity and the mileage range of electric vehicles.

Efficiency + Renewable Energy = Sustainability

In energy efficient buildings with passive solar features, on-site renewable energy can maintain comfort and productivity. A treatment plant or farm with efficient equipment can tap its own biogas for energy to operate. Efficient vehicles can run entirely on net-GHG-free renewable electricity or biofuels. Communities that maximize efficiency and adopt renewable energy for public and private use are well on the way to a sustainable future.

Renewable Energy in a Community Setting

Two white anaerobic digesters with grass in front
The City of Schenectady has resurrected and
upgraded an unused biogas generation facility at its
century-old sewge treatment plant. The methane-rich
biogas is burned in a combined-heat-and-power
system, yielding enough electricity to offset the
treatment plant's energy costs.

CSCs pledge to supply as much as possible of the local government's electricity, heat and hot water from renewable sources, through purchase or direct generation. Some CSCs and other municipalities also are working to help private-sector residents, businesses and institutions optimize their use of renewable energy.

Renewable energy in local government operations. Many New York communities include renewables in the energy mix for their own facilities and fleets, either through on-site generation or through purchase of renewable electricity or biofuels. Along with saving taxpayer dollars and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, local government's use of renewable energy plays an important role in familiarizing people with new technologies and stimulating interest and confidence in renewable energy.

Solar panels on roof of grey building with blue sky in the background
A small demonstration solar photovoltaic system on
Red Hook's town hall roof was so successful that the
town enlarged the system to provide approximately
half the electricity used in Town Hall (23+ Kw),added
a small rooftop array to power the Recycling Center
and installed 38.77 kW of ground-mounted PV
for the firehouse. The town reports continuously
to its citizens on the results of its solar installation.

Local land use. Local land use requirements determine how quickly and easily the private sector can adopt renewable energy, and can be structured to help maximize the return on investment for private renewable energy installations. Local building efficiency standards can pave the way for future renewable-powered sustainability; lower permit fees and flexible requirements can facilitate small wind or solar development; local land use plans can identify areas (such as closed landfills or industrial tracts) where renewable installations large enough to serve an entire neighborhood could appropriately be sited.

Interest, motivation and support. By demonstrating renewable energy's benefits, informing the public, adopting local building codes and enabling legislation (for geothermal system installation, see Suffolk County's Model Geothermal Permitting Code at right), referring applicants to sources of financial assistance and even offering incentives for renewables, local governments can help move New York toward the green energy that must replace fossil fuels if our economy is to be sustainable.