New York Can Lead The Nation In Clean Energy With A New, 50 Percent By 2025 Renewable Energy Standard

Maple Ridge Wind Farm NYS.jpg

NRDC and our partners filed comments today with the New York State Public Service Commission, which regulates the state's utilities, that can help the Empire State lead the nation in renewable energy--that's right: lead the nation--by building on the state's existing successes and creating what's technically called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will enable New York to get 50 percent of its electricity from clean sources, like wind and solar power, by 2025. (Thanks to the state's existing renewable energy standard, set to expire at the end of this year, and the abundant hydropower resources from Niagara Falls, New York already gets more than 23 percent of its electricity from clean sources. The 50 percent target is eminently reachable, as illustrated by NYSERDA's recent renewable energy potential study.) A 50 x '25 RPS is what New York state needs to maximize the state's sizeable clean energy potential, comply cost-effectively with the EPA's Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, and meet New York's existing commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, as science demands, if we are to protect our kids from climate change's worst effects.

New York state can lead the nation in clean energy with a new 50 percent-by-2025 renewable energy standard that will incentivize large-scale, clean energy projects, like this wind farm outside Lowville. (photo credit: Chris Bentley)

Unless you're an energy wonk like me, filing comments might not seem like a big deal. But the truth is, these comments can help New York shape its clean-energy policies so that the state beats even California, the current nation-leader, in clean power; so that it can create hundreds if not thousands of good jobs, especially in economically struggling upstate communities; and, if past performance is any guide, so it can realize three dollars in economic benefits for every dollar invested--quite an impressive rate of return. Most importantly, pushing for this 50 X '25 standard will help guarantee that, as the state's current renewable energy standard expires on December 31st, and New York redesigns the ways electricity is generated and delivered, through the complex Reforming the Energy Vision proceedings, we'll have the right policies in place to make New York's electric system cleaner, more reliable and more affordable overall.

If we want large-scale, clean-energy developers to set up shop and develop projects here, like the country's biggest solar developer, Solar City, did in Buffalo last year, and we want to create new jobs (3,000 are expected once the Solar City plant opens in 2016 or 2017), we need the kind of long-term certainty that an ambitious renewable energy standard, and only a renewable energy standard, provides.

Along with our partners, we're also advocating for a stakeholder technical conference to help the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) dig deep into the details of how the RPS should be designed, so that it cost-effectively spurs development of large-scale renewables projects and appropriately incentivizes technologies, such as offshore wind power, that are key to realizing the state's renewable energy potential. (These partners include the Sierra Club, the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, the American Wind Energy Association, Environmental Advocates of New York, the Pace Energy and Climate Center, Renewable Energy Long Island, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy.)

New York already recognizes the benefits of large-scale renewables projects that RPSs spark. Indeed, last week, Governor Cuomo's office announced the state would offer $160 million in large-scale renewable energy investments through a competitive process. This offering represents the tenth solicitation since the RPS was established more than a decade ago. (Through this so-called "main tier" solicitation, winning projects will be able enter into contracts for as long as 20 years.) Earlier main-tier solicitations have already resulted in the creation more than 2,000 megawatts-worth of renewable energy projects in the Empire State. Many of them are located upstate, where they've not only helped create jobs in sluggish local economies, but have also supported vital public services like education and public safety by paying taxes to local governments, and kept families on land that has often been in their families for decades. Again, all of this progress has been supported by an extremely modest investment by New York consumers, an investment that has delivered a striking 3:1 benefits-to-costs ratio, as data collected by NYSERDA demonstrates.

Under a 50 X '25 RPS, the state's renewable energy will come from a diverse portfolio of clean energy resources. One particularly promising technology that has yet to be tapped in New York is offshore wind. To cost-effectively incentivize it, the PSC and NYSERDA can develop policies that will enable the Empire State to take advantage of the considerable wind resources that exists right off our shores, close to the major load centers of New York City and Long Island. In fact, a recent NYSERDA-University of Delaware study found that, by putting appropriate policies in place, New York could cut the cost of offshore wind power by more than half. That's without the help of federal incentives or other state partners. (Working together, the feds and other states could help cut the cost of offshore wind power even more.)

Finally, as the PSC and NYSERDA develop their renewable energy policies, they should be sure to include Long Island in their mandates and standards. (The area is currently exempt.) Because Long Island creates nearly 20 percent of the state's overall electric demand, New York simply can't meet its clean energy or climate goals without Long Island doing its part.

Considerable research demonstrates that RPSs have been--and continue to be--the most significant drivers of renewable energy development in the nation. So, in order to achieve its clean-energy and carbon-cutting goals, New York needs to create a new and improved RPS as the old one expires. Our comments to the PSC provide some guiding, overarching principles that outline how to effectively design an ambitious standard that creates new jobs for New Yorkers, helps the state comply cost-effectively with the EPA's Clean Power Plan and existing New York state commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and maximizes the state's clean energy potential. With a 50 X '25 RPS in place, New York will lead the nation in clean energy; a multitude of benefits will come with it.