Learning from Letterman: How New York State Can Reach the Clean Energy Future

As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come on climate resilience and curbing global warming emissions.  New Yorkers have risen to the challenge of rebuilding damaged homes, communities and infrastructure. But there’s much more to be done. We need to end our addiction to fossil fuels and curb global warming emissions so that we reduce the severity and frequency of extreme weather events like Sandy.

Earlier this year, a team led by Professor Mark Jacobson at Stanford University issued a thought-provoking whitepaper. Jacobson’s report examines how New York State can move off fossil fuels and instead use renewable energy for 100 percent of our energy needs—for electricity, heating, transportation fuels and industrial power.

Last night, Professor Jacobson appeared on the Dave Letterman Show for a remarkably in-depth – and funny -- discussion of climate change and how we can move away from fossil fuels to a clean energy future in New York State and across the nation.

The big question, of course, is how we do get there from here. How do we get started on this bold clean energy revolution? NRDC has a roadmap to start us on this clean energy journey here in New York State.

Here are the first steps:

  • Extend and Expand New York’s Renewable Energy Requirement. New York State, like almost thirty other states, has a Renewable Portfolio Standard in place – that’s a requirement that increasing amounts of our electricity come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar.  The current goal is to achieve a 30% renewable energy goal by 2015, but then the program ends.  By the end of this year, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) should launch an initiative to extend and expand this renewable energy requirement to require 50% renewable electricity by 2025 (an incremental increase of 2% per year). 
  •  Scale up solar energy through extension of the NY-Sun Initiative and community solar.  In 2012, New York launched a great new solar power program called NY-Sun, which is on its way to quadrupling the amount of solar power in this state.  But the program sunsets in 2015. New York State should extend the program for another ten years, which Governor Cuomo has already committed to do.  The state should also launch a pilot program in the coming year to enable innovative community solar programs that empower any New Yorker to make direct investments toward solar energy facilities.
  •  Build a smart offshore wind program for New York.  New York State has giant offshore wind resources in the Atlantic waters near our population centers in New York City and Long Island.  The State should set ambitious near- and long- term goals for deploying offshore wind energy off New York’s coast and support these goals through a smart program combining thoughtful siting criteria and targeted financing mechanisms.  First steps include moving forward with plans for a 350 MW offshore wind project proposed by the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority and Con Edison, and with a power purchase agreement for a portion of the power from a 1000 MW project in Atlantic waters thirty miles east of Montauk, proposed by Deepwater Wind.
  •  Establish and Strengthen Energy Efficiency Targets.  Energy efficiency is always the cheapest, quickest, cleanest solution to New York’s energy challenges. New York has in place a “15 x 15” Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard requirement, which calls for a 15% reduction in electricity demand by 2015.  We should build on that by establishing a new target to reduce electricity consumption an additional 20% by 2025, by leveraging greater private sector investment, implementing effective incentives and innovative financing options, and expanding demand for efficiency through benchmarking and other policies. 
  •  Get the New York Green Bank up and running by March 31, 2014. Governor Cuomo has committed to create an innovative Green Bank to facilitate the increased deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in partnership with private capital providers.  The goal is to harness private capital to increase the deployment of renewable energy here in New York.  The State should get this bank up and running in the first quarter of 2015.  The New York State Energy & Research Development Authority has just taken the first step to get this going.
  •  Promote plug-in electric vehicle adoption.  New York State needs to break down barriers to the adoption of plug-in electric cars and accelerate deployment of these vehicles.  The State’s Public Service Commission is looking at these issues now.  The Commission should take the following steps to get going: create a multi-agency, coordinated action plan; attractive vehicle charging rates that minimize electric car charging costs and encourage off-peak charging; the implementation of consumer incentives for the purchase of electric cars; effective utility outreach and education; and, advanced notification of electric car deployment to minimize costly system upgrades.
  • Move Forward with President Obama’s Climate Plan.  Last but not least, we need a strong national climate and clean energy policy to move New York State – and all the states – forward.   President Obama’s Climate Plan does just that by calling for carbon pollution limits on new and existing power plants, stronger national energy efficiency standards and greater deployment of renewable energy. And New York State is doing its part by lowering the carbon cap on New York’s power plants through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

 If we take these first steps – and many more to come – we can indeed get to the clean energy future in New York State.  As Jacobson commented last night, we need to engage in the hard work of mustering the political will and putting in place the right policies and resources. New York State already has a strong record on renewable energy and energy efficiency. By accelerating these efforts, we can move away from dirty energy sources and to a future dominated by clean energy. In the process, we can create thousands of new jobs, increase the reliability of our electric grid, reduce our global warming pollution significantly, and clean up the air that our kids breathe.