Biodiesel in NYC? Yassky, Gennaro, Woody Harrelson, my wife, and Fields of Fuels
Not too long ago I highlighted some ideas I had regarding the role of biofuels in a sane American energy plan that could wean us off oil. Biofuels are controversial and are a minefield of problems. But, there are definitely very sane, smart and viable biofuel options that need to be considered as part of America's energy policy. The diary I mention above discusses several options I think need consideration.
Here in NYC, there is a very specific, very intelligent biofuel option that can help reduce the carbon footprint of NYC. This idea is being touted by NYC Councilmembers David Yassky and Jim Gennaro in the bill Intro. 599 (introduced in 2007) and would require a phased in shift of heating oil in NYC from all petroleum to 20% biodiesel. It would start slowly with 5% biodiesel (B5 fuel) and work its way up to 20% (B20 fuuel) by 2012. Why 20%? Because this is the level that I am told all NYC boilers can handle without modification. Going to B20 in all of NYC's boilers would reduce pollution by 10-20% (depending on the pollutant) and would reduce our carbon footprint. A modification I would urge Yassky and Gennaro to add to their bill is some way to link their biodiesel requirement for fuels to be linked to utilization of used cooking oil within the city. This would be the most efficient and logical choice of fuels.
The idea is so reasonable that the co-op board of the building I live in wants me to look into B5-B20 fuel as an option for heating our building. I will do this soon, and may well report on the issue here when I get some info.
One of the main issues with biofuels is the source of the fuel. There are reports, which may or may not be accurate, that the quest for biofuels is driving up the cost of foods like corn-based food in poor areas. In NYC one clear solution is to utilize one of the best sources of biodiesel raw materials you can find: used cooking oil from all the restaruants we all eat at. This cooking oil is mostly thrown out these days. It could ALL be turned into biofuel to make B20 that could fuel all our boilers with reduced pollution and carbon emissions. Let's keep in mind that most of the boilers in NYC won't be replaced for 20 or more years. Even if our goal was to replace them all with some kind of solar or wind based technology, that is a 20 year period before we can successfully do that. Biofuels can be a way to reduce our carbon footprint and pollution during that 20 plus year window.
I will be looking into these options for my own building. But the whole city can join in. David Yassky and Jim Gennaro are pushing for making this process part of business as usual in NYC. We all should back them on this and write our city council reps to urge them to back it, particularly if a provision is added to utilize the local resouce of used cooking oil.
David Yassky first called my attention to this bill, though a car rental choice by my wife on our last trip to Los Angeles made me very open to biodiesel. But interestingly, that car rental choice and New York City Councilman (and future State Senator, I hope) Jim Gennaro turn out to dovetail through an unexpected person...Woody Harrelson.
My wife and I rented a biodiesel car in Los Angeles through a Hawaii based company called Biobeetle. Their Los Angeles branch was going under due to lack of interest (though their Hawaii branch is doing fine for anyone travelling to Hawaii!). The two last customers in Los Angeles were my wife and Woody Harrelson. After us, they may be done.
But Woody Harrelson and New York Citycouncilman Jim Gennaro have another biodiesel connection. They have been part of a collaboration with film maker Josh Tickell on a recent documentary, Field of Fuels, highlighted at Sundance, addressing America's addiction to foreign oil.
Here is a You Tube video of a bunch of big stars, including Councilman Jim Gennaro, fellow Biobeetle customer Woody Harrelson, Esai Morales, and Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me fame) discussing the film.
I want to emphasize that I do not consider biodiesel a main solution to our energy needs. It is a small part of the solution. Solar and wind are at least as important, if not more so, and are currently economically viable. But for a place like NYC, with boilers that keep us warm and aren't being replaced anytime soon, biofuels made from local waste oil is a very viable and logical solution. Intro. 599 would be an intelligent interim solution to our heating oil needs.
And as to Jim Gennaro, you can contribute to his State Senate race through the official Daily Gotham Act Blue Site. Getting him into the State Senate would be a great thing for New York even separate from the energy policy issue.