In Finalizing Its Important Clean Energy Standard, NY PSC Should Focus on Getting the Details Right

New York State is close to taking a major step forward on clean energy by adopting a requirement that 50 percent of New York’s electricity come from renewable energy resources like wind and solar power by 2030. This process began in December, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped forward with the bold decision to direct the State’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, to develop such a program. Now, with the Commission’s decision expected in July, we’re in the final stages of a statewide discussion on the importance of renewable energy and how best to design this new program.

To support this “50 by ‘30” renewables program, which is part of a bigger program called the Clean Energy Standard, hundreds of New Yorkers will gather in Lower Manhattan for a rally at City Hall Park at 5:00 pm today. Both before and after the rally, the Public Service Commission will hold public hearings at nearby 90 Church Street, where New Yorkers can speak out about the importance of renewable energy. These hearings might be the last opportunity for New Yorkers to weigh in on this important issue. My NRDC colleague Miles Farmer will speak at the hearing this afternoon. If you care about renewable energy in the Empire State, please come, too!

Here are some of the key features that NRDC and our allies will be urging the Public Service Commission to include in New York’s “50 by ‘30” renewables program:

  • Set targets for energy efficiency, too: In order to meet its ambitious global- warming reduction goals, New York will need energy efficiency targets as well as renewable energy targets. In fact, the most cost-effective way to meet the Clean Energy Standard is with lots of energy efficiency—with annual energy savings of at least 2 percent. Current leaders in energy efficiency, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are now requiring yearly savings of almost 3 percent. So a 2 percent target is eminently doable. Ambitious efficiency efforts will lower New Yorkers’ energy bills by reducing demand. The Commission should establish a clear commitment to a 2 percent energy efficiency target in the Clean Energy Standard order.
  • Commit to offshore wind power: Offshore wind power will be critical to meeting New York’s renewable energy target and state officials have acknowledged that we can’t get there without it. The good news is that the pollution-free technology is poised to take off in New York’s coastal waters, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs and to make our electric grid more reliable. (That’s because offshore wind turbines can produce the most electricity when it’s needed most: on hot summer afternoons and cold winter days and nights, when electricity demand surges.) By carving out a separate requirement in the Clean Energy Standard for electricity from offshore wind power projects, the commission can provide the long-term market certainty needed to bring offshore wind power to scale. (Of course, the requirement should phase in over a reasonable time horizon, given the lead time such projects require.)
  • Make the renewables standard enforceable: The sooner we cut carbon pollution from the power sector (and from every other sector), the better things will be for our climate and for our economy. That’s why the Public Service Commission should set forth a clear framework for enforcing the “50 by ‘30” renewables program. This should include specific annual targets for renewable energy supply, with clear rules for how these targets will be adjusted and for payments that must be made if they are not met. This will provide greater market certainty for clean energy investors and thereby further reduce costs. This will help ensure reaching those targets becomes not just an aspiration but a reality.
  • Use long-term contracts: Providing renewable energy suppliers with long-term contracts helps ensure that projects can be built and financed at the lowest possible costs—with those cost-savings passed on to consumers. Long-term contracts also give developers of clean energy projects, manufacturers, and investors the certainty they need to invest here in New York State.
  • Nuclear energy is not renewable: Nuclear energy, while low-carbon, is neither clean nor renewable and therefore should be kept completely separate from the Clean Energy Standard. Under no circumstances should nuclear energy be counted toward New York’s 50 percent renewable energy requirement. Nor should any of New York’s clean energy or global warming reduction funds be diverted to support New York’s nuclear plants.

Governor Cuomo’s decision in December that the state should get 50 percent of its electricity from clean sources was an important and ambitious one, and just the kind of leadership we need from our elected officials at this moment in history. Now, with your presence at today’s rally and hearings, we can encourage the PSC to make good on that ambition, by developing a program that works well by design. 

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