Green Subways: An Answer Blowing in the Wind?

234946793_dd350240bb.jpgAs part of its "Steal This Idea" series, Good magazine has a suggestion for a way to move toward a more sustainable New York: offering subway riders the chance to pay a little extra for a wind-powered ride.

Each year, the New York subway system uses 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, making it the city’s single largest consumer of electricity. What if the subway’s MetroCard machines offered the option of paying a small premium to purchase the rider’s share of electricity from non-polluting wind power instead of traditional hydroelectric, nuclear, and fossil-fuel sources?

For its residential customers, ConEdison-the city’s only electricity company-charges an additional 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to use wind energy. The average subway ride uses 1.2 kilowatt-hours of power (based on 1.5 billion 2006 rides), which means the wind power surcharge would amount to 3 extra cents a ride-a 1.5 percent increase from the normal $2 charge.

With a 1.5 percent surcharge, a seven-day unlimited pass would cost $24.36 (up from $24), and a 30-day unlimited pass would cost $77.14 (up from $76). Say the surcharge was 5 percent-those prices would only increase to $25.20 and $79.80. A 5-percent per ride surcharge with a slim 10-percent participant rate could inject as much as $15 million into the wind-power market annually.

Sounds intriguing. But as recent efforts to establish wind farms upstate, off Long Island and in the Nantucket Sound have shown, a combination of high cost, environmental concerns, and plain old NIMBYism has bedeviled the development of wind energy in New York and elsewhere.

Photo: Nick Atkins Photography via Flickr 

  • jmc

    Why is fossil fuel lumped with hydroelectric and nuclear power? Nuclear power doesn’t generate any more carbon dioxide than wind power, and pre-existing hydro is carbon free. We’re going to need to have nuclear and hydroelectric power even after fossil fuels are phased out. Externalities like carbon dioxide and nuclear waste should be included in the cost of electricity. Nuclear waste cleanup and storage is already included in the cost of nuclear energy, carbon dioxide is not included in fossil fuel costs.

    Also, if I remember correctly most of the subway is fueled by nuclear and hydro.

  • Rocinante

    For nuclear power: what’s the cost per KWH for the added cost of the externality of plutonium waste with a half-life of 25,000 years?

  • jmc

    Nuclear plants must pay into a storage and remediation fund for every gram of nuclear waste they produce.

    Coal plants don’t have to pay for the radioactive waste they throw into the atmosphere!

    Anyway, without massive adoption of nuclear power industrial civilization probably won’t survive the twin crises of oil depletion and climate change.

    I think the reason people are afraid of nuclear energy is because they don’t understand the mechanism.

  • Eugene

    Good idea. But we all must stop right now alluding to the Dylan song every time we need to think of a headline for a wind energy article. It’s clever, but it has been done too many times. Thanks.

  • LN

    The hot air expended on subway issues and fare hikes and transportation issues by politicians in this city could run the subways for a decade or more.

  • Ace

    I agree LN.

    Charge every car and truck $20(or more)to enter NYC.

    all that commuters want are more trains more often.

  • AG

    I think I am already doing more than most people by taking public transport in the first place.


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