An engineering problem

While it’s ridiculous to claim that avoiding the impacts of climate change is merely an engineering problem, it looks increasingly likely some mega-projects could be essential soon.

Market Urbanism points me to this infrastructure seminar on storm surge barriers for NYC.

The seminar culminated in the presentation of four conceptual designs of the storm surge barriers:

  • Michael Abrahams of Parsons Brinckerhoff proposed a flap-type barrier for the upper East River with a series of panels across the river that normally rest on the bottom, but are raised when a surge is expected.
  • Larry Murphy of Camp Dresser & McKee showed a barrier across the Arthur Kill with tide gates, parallel navigation locks, and a pedestrian draw bridge.
  • Peter Jansen and Piet Dircke of Arcadis presented the design of a barrier across the Narrows, just north of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The barrier would consist of a pair of rolling or sliding sector gates spanning an 870-foot opening in the center, adjoined by 16 lifting gates with a span of 130 feet, and two lifting gates with a span of 165 feet.
  • Dennis Padron and Graeme Forsythe of Halcrow introduced another concept. They proposed a New York–New Jersey Outer Harbor Gateway, a barrier extending from Sandy Hook to the Rockaways, a 5-mile long system of causeway and gates. A key consideration of the outer barrier system concept is that it would not be intended to completely prevent surge waters outflanking the flood defenses at the extreme ends of the barrier system, but rather it would deflect surge energy and mitigate water levels in the Upper and Lower Bay to manageable levels.

Preliminary estimates of the costs of the barriers by the designers were $1.5 billion for the upper East River site, $1.1 billion for the Arthur Kill, $6.5 billion for the Narrows barrier, and $5.9 billion for the Gateway barrier system.

It will be interesting to see how these cost estimates compare to damage estimates in the coming weeks.

Property-Assessed Clean Energy could be coming to Minnesota

Photo CC licensed by flickr user Wayne National Forest

I write a lot about planning here, but the other half of my work is focused on energy and climate change.  I intend to post more about these topics in the near future, starting with this post.

Today Governor Pawlenty signed a Jobs bill contains many provisions, most of which don’t directly relate to energy.  However, a provision overlooked by most news outlets is enabling language for Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).  PACE is a tool that helps overcome one of the largest barriers for homeowners to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects: upfront costs.  Local governments (cities and counties) sell bonds which are paid back through voluntary assessments on the properties of individuals who participate in the program.  Loan paybacks are much longer (15 to 20 years) than typical home equity loans or existing energy improvement loans, so the amount of energy savings can sometimes be greater than the loan payback cost.

Another advantage to these programs is that  the assessment stays with the property, not the individual, so homeowners do not have to assume they will live in one place for 20 years to see the benefits of a renewable energy system, for example.  These programs can also have significant benefits for the local economy.  Boulder County’s Climate Smart Loan Program, which distributed its first round of funding in 2009, has already paid out over $7.5 million to contractors for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.  The vast majority of this work was done by local contractors, and the 75% of the bonds were sold locally, providing “green” investment options to residents.

PACE programs already exist in many cities and counties.  The enabling legislation that became law today means that cities and counties in Minnesota can begin building their own PACE programs.  If you’re interested in making it easier to do energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, start pestering your local elected officials now.  Tell them they now have the power to build these programs and you are interested!