By Anne Reynolds and Joe Martens
Two recent reports, representing a virtual consensus among climate scientists and federal government agencies, just turned up the heat on the need for clean energy fast. In its Special Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that global warming is happening much faster than expected and that the consequences of inaction could be devastating. That judgement was affirmed by the Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued by 13 federal agencies last November, which outlined the dire consequences of global warming to the national economy and public health.
Fortunately, New York heard the warnings. In his 2019 State of State and Executive Budget Address, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed sweeping measures to get New York to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. The cornerstone of his proposal is raising the state’s Clean Energy Standard (CES) from 50 percent to 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030. To get to the 70 by 30 CES goal, the Governor proposes a nation-leading target of 9000MW of offshore wind; doubling distributed solar deployment from 3000MW by 2025, to 6000MW by 2023; doubling large-scale land-based wind and solar resources,and doubling the state’s energy storage goal from 1500MW to 3000MW by 2025. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? We think so. But it won’t be easy.
The newest renewable energy frontier, for New York and the nation, is offshore wind. Europe has been generating commercial-scale electricity for nearly 30 years; it currently boasts 92 wind farms in 11 countries, capable of producing nearly 16000MW of electricity, The U.S. has only one pilot project, consisting of five, 6MW turbines in Rhode Island waters, off the coast of Block Island. But the potential along the Atlantic seaboard is huge - nearly every state, from Massachusetts to North Carolina, has set offshore wind goals. Many have, or soon will award contracts for new offshore wind farms. Bids for New York’s first offshore wind solicitation are rolling in for projects estimated to be 800MW or larger.
The future of offshore wind, however, relies on industry efforts to develop responsible projects that minimize conflicts with other ocean users, like commercial fishing, as well as securing new offshore leases from the federal government. Since the 9000MW offshore wind energy goal represents more than a quarter of all the renewable energy needed to meet New York’s 70 by 30 goal, development of offshore wind is a critical piece of the renewable energy mosaic.
Many more land-based wind and solar projects are also key to meeting the new CES. Today, New York meets about 28 percent of its electricity demand from renewable sources, mostly from large upstate hydroelectric projects (owned and operated by the state Power Authority). The state has made considerable progress since the CES went into effect in 2015, awarding contracts totaling $2.9 billion to 46 wind and solar projects statewide.
Awarding contracts is only part of the story, however. In 2011, New York enacted a new siting law known as Article 10 of the Public Service Law. It was heralded as “one stop” licensing for major electric generating facilities (25MW nameplate capacity or greater). Unfortunately, that “one stop” has proven to be a longstop, and only one power plant of any type – the Cassadaga windfarm in Western New York -- has been approved under this program. Administration of the siting law is hindered by a limited number of staff at the NY Department of Public Service (DPS). This small group is tasked with reviewing an ever growing queue of projects applying for siting approval. This phase, combined with local animosity toward some of the proposed wind and solar projects, has contributed to a notoriously long siting process.
That’s why reforming New York’s energy facility siting process is a top priority for clean energy advocates. In 2017, a stakeholder engagement process began that included representatives from state agencies, the conservation community, and local governments. The goal was to identify the myriad issues associated with siting large-scale wind and solar projects, and to look for solutions. This collaborative effort ended with the publication of a consensus document entitled, Accelerating Large Scale Wind and Solar Development in New York: Principles and Recommendations.
Responding to pressure from grass roots groups, Governor Cuomo (as part of his extensive package of clean energy initiatives) included funding in his 2019 Executive Budget for eight new staff positions to accelerate Article 10 reviews. In an otherwise tight state budget, the inclusion of these positions was an open acknowledgement that the siting process needed a boost.
Following the ambitious goals laid out in the Governor’s State of the State address, here’s what to look forward to this year: announcement of the winners of NY’s first offshore wind procurement; a second offshore wind request for proposals (RFP); the next RFP for the Clean Energy Standard (due out April 22nd); and a more streamlined Article 10 process, and progress with projects moving through the siting pipeline.
New York has long been a leader in environmental protection. As the climate crisis deepens and the time to react diminshes, the state’s new energy objectives are a welcome sign that the state can grow the clean energy economy, create high paying jobs, and simulate billions of dollars in investment in clean, renewable, and carbon free energy.
Anne Reynolds is Executive Director for the Alliance for Clean Energy NY (ACE NY), a broad coalition dedicated to promoting clean energy, energy efficiency, a healthy environment, and a strong economy for the Empire State.
ACE NY | http://www.aceny.org
Joe Martens is Director at the New York Offshore Wind Alliance (NYOWA), a project of ACE NY, representing a diverse coalition of organizations with a shared interest in promoting responsible development of offshore wind power for New York.
NYOWA | http://www.nyowa.org