By MICHAEL HILL
Associated Press Writer
June 3, 2004, 5:56 PM EDT
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Burning garbage should not be considered a resource on par with wind and waves as New York increases its reliance on renewable energy, a state official recommended Thursday.
The proposed exclusion of municipal garbage incineration from state-sanctioned renewable energy sources was contained in a broader recommendation on how New York should go about requiring 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
Energy sources included in the recommendation are wind, solar, tidal, fuel cells, hydroelectric, biomass and biogas.
Gov. George Pataki called for the 25 percent requirement last year. The 144-page recommendation Thursday by an administrative law judge will be used as a road map by state regulators as they set final policy. The state Public Service Commission is free to accept, reject or modify the recommendation from Administrative Law Judge Eleanor Stein.
While alternative energy costs can be high, state officials believe that could be offset in the long run by a decreased reliance on high priced fossil fuels. Stein forecast that bills for residential customers could dip slightly or increase by up to 1.8 percent, under the recommended changes.
"Because of the persistently high price of natural gas, in particular, the bill impacts ... are modest if not minimal," according to the decision.
Still, The Business Council of New York State and Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Paul Tonko both said the recommendation would likely cost industrial customers more as New York is trying to retain jobs.
"This, while a laudable goal, is going to raise the price for power when we simply cannot afford it," said Tonko, a Democrat
Stein also predicted the policy will cause substantial decreases in pollution.
New York now receives about 19 percent of its electricity from renewable sources _ the overwhelming amount of it from the New York Power Authority's massive hydro projects at Niagara Falls and on the St. Lawrence River.
Pataki, in his 2003 State of the State address, called for bumping it up to a quarter of all electricity sold in New York by 2013. Stein recommended keeping with that timetable, but said another option was to stretch out the timeframe to 2015.
More than 100 state officials, industry representatives and environmental groups have spent more than a year arguing over details of the renewable policy.
Garbage emerged as a contentious issue. Incinerator operators argued they produce clean, sustainable energy and should be included on the state's renewable list _ a move that could provide financial incentives for the generators. Environmentalists claimed the plants burn too dirty and discourage recycling.
Stein said garbage incineration was incompatible with the environmental objectives of the renewable plan. But she said it was an option that could be considered in the future as technology improves.
Environmental groups were quick to praise the recommendation, particularly the exclusion of garbage incineration.
"If the state moves quickly to approve this recommendation, New York will lead the nation on renewable energy," said Katherine Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Maria Zannes, president of the Integrated Waste Services Association, an industry group, said the association would try to convince the Public Service Commission and lawmakers that incineration benefits New York.