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Power Authority Offers Free Trees for Community-Owned Electric Systems to Offset Deforestation

Tim Koranda

March 2, 2007


WHITE PLAINS—Concerned that a substantial portion of the trees in some communities were uprooted in recent snowstorms, New York Power Authority (NYPA) President and Chief Executive Officer Timothy S. Carey is urging the state’s 51 municipal electric systems and rural cooperatives to take advantage of a NYPA tree planting program.

“Snowstorms in Western New York and elsewhere have wiped away as much as 75 percent of the trees in some communities,” Carey said. “That means we have to plant more.”

In a letter Thursday to the community-owned electric systems, Carey upped the ante, by offering a free tree for each one the municipalities bought, so that no village would fear “going out on a limb.”

In fact, the Power Authority has had a “buy-one-get-one free” tree program for the past 15 years.  But its original purpose was to reduce energy use, not to counter storm-wrought deforestation.

The energy-saving benefits of trees are linked to a phenomenon known as evapo-trans-piration. Trees cool by releasing water vapor that can reduce the ambient air temperature by as much as six degrees Fahrenheit.  When planted near homes and buildings, they can therefore reduce summer air-conditioning costs by as much as 25 percent.

Less well known is the ability of trees to serve as windbreaks against cold and wind chill.  A study in South Dakota found that homes can benefit from strategically placed trees and shrubbery and save as much as one-third on heating bills.  That’s particularly important in the state’s municipal electric districts, where electric heating is commonplace.

The Power Authority has worked out an arrangement with the New York State Nursery and Landscape Association to supply the trees to the members of the state’s Municipal Electric Utilities Association at a cost of $70 each, with the Power Authority supplying an identical sapling at no additional cost.

By all accounts the program has been a big success.  Since it began, the munis and coops, whose systems are served by low-cost NYPA hydropower, have planted over 37,000 maples, honey locusts and Norway spruce trees among others throughout the state.

Taking into account the losses in New York State from snow as well as losses throughout the country from forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that there’s room to plant well over 100 million additional trees in villages and urban areas.

Such massive planting “would certainly improve the beauty and livability of these communities,” Carey said in his letter.  At the same time, he pointed out that the additional trees would produce annual energy savings of 50 billion kilowatt-hours—roughly one quarter of the 200 billion kilowatt-hours consumed every year by air-conditioners and heat pumps in the United States.

Then, almost as an aside, Carey wrote, “And let’s not forget that trees also help prevent erosion, protect water supplies, create habitat for wildlife, and clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.” 

He ended his appeal on an emotional high note, with a quote by the artist Henry Turner Bailey. “Thwarted by unfortunate conditions, maimed by its enemies, crowded by its neighbors, lashed by storms, struck by lightning, the spirit of the tree is never broken.”

The Power Authority has budgeted $50,000 to support the tree program.

 About NYPA:

 ■    NYPA uses no tax money or state credit.  It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity.  ■    NYPA is a leader in promoting energy-efficiency, new energy technologies and electric transportation initiatives.  ■    It is the nation’s largest state-owned electric utility, with 18 generating facilities in various parts of the state and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines.

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