Vote Monday Can Deliver Clean Energy Future New Yorkers Seek
The New York Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates electric utilities in New York, is slated to vote on August 1st on a new program to require that New York State gets 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2030. So it’s timely that a recent poll, commissioned by the Nature Conservancy and conducted by a bipartisan research team, confirms that New Yorkers overwhelmingly want more clean energy and they want it now.
The “50 by ‘30” goal was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in December and since then, the state’s Department of Public Service has been designing a program to meet it as part of a larger effort called the Clean Energy Standard.
NRDC has ideas about how New York can design a successful program that will deliver the clean energy that New Yorkers are demanding, as the poll shows:
- A full 90 percent of New Yorkers back the “50 by ‘30” renewables program. There is strong support in all areas of the state, including New York City, the suburbs, and areas outside these major population centers.
- New Yorkers strongly support using more wind and solar power. Increased solar power topped off at 94 percent support. Nearly nine in 10 New Yorkers—89 percent—support using more wind power as well.
Clearly, clean energy is a favorite in the Empire State. So we urge the state to adopt the “50 by ‘30” program without delay. To make sure we achieve and move beyond that target as quickly as possible, the program must be a smart one that’s designed to succeed. Here are some key features that should be included:
- Set targets for energy efficiency, too: In order to meet its appropriately ambitious global-warming reduction goals, New York needs energy efficiency targets that are as forward-looking as its renewable energy ones. An ambitious efficiency portfolio (including the resources necessary to deliver that efficiency) will lower New Yorkers’ energy bills by reducing demand—and make the 50 percent renewables target easier to reach. The most cost-effective way to meet the “50 by ‘30” goal, in fact, is by simultaneously ramping up investment in efficiency programs—with an annual energy savings requirement of at least 2 percent.
- Use a portfolio approach with long-term contracts: The rules matter for how electric utilities purchase renewable power, both in terms of keeping costs down and in guaranteeing we can scale up renewable power quickly. Providing renewable energy developers with long-term power contracts helps ensure that projects can be financed and built at the lowest possible costs, because the contracts provide the certainty that increases investor confidence. Those savings can then be passed on to consumers. The benefits of that certainty extend beyond lower costs for electricity. When investors feel confident, they’ll build out manufacturing and business operations closer to their facilities—in other words, more potential jobs up and down the supply chain here in New York State.
Under the state’s previous non-binding renewable energy goals, New York used a “renewable energy credit”-only approach that provided long-term contracts only for the environmental attributes of clean power. The “50 by ‘30” program long-term contracts should include procurement options that include contracts for not only RECs, but also the power and capacity delivered by renewable projects. Also, in order to test out the best ways to meet “50 by ’30” as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, the PSC should consider some limited role for utility-owned renewable projects.
- Commit to offshore wind: State officials have acknowledged that we can’t meet New York’s renewable energy target without offshore wind. Carving out a specific requirement for electricity from offshore wind will provide the long-term certainty developers need to bring it to scale. NRDC also looks forward to the release by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority‘s forthcoming Offshore Wind Blueprint as well as the clean energy agency’s more detailed Offshore Wind Master Plan, both of which should establish a solid framework to build out this incredible clean energy resource in New York’s coastal waters.
- Make the renewables standard enforceable: There is a need for a clear framework for enforcement in the form of a binding obligation on the state’s distribution utilities and other electricity suppliers. It should include specific annual targets for renewable energy procurement, with clear rules for scaling it up year over year, and require alternative compliance payments from any entities that fall short of their target. (That money should then be reinvested to drive renewables deployment.) This approach will provide greater market certainty for investors, further reducing costs, and help ensure the targets become a reality rather than just an aspiration.
- Nuclear power does not belong in the Clean Energy Standard: The state is considering a separate program within the Clean Energy Standard that would provide substantial subsidies through 2030 to several of the state’s nuclear plants that are uneconomic in today’s electricity markets. Nuclear power, while a low-carbon energy source, is neither renewable nor clean and shouldn’t be included in the program. Under no circumstances should a single megawatt-hour of electricity supplied by nuclear plants count 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 them.
With a smart program design, the state can go a long way toward making New Yorkers’ clean energy wishes come true. And with climate change’s impacts worsening by the day, New York cannot afford to delay. We urge the Public Service Commission to adopt the “50 by ‘30” initiative on August 1. Then we can all get to work on delivering the clean energy future that New Yorkers overwhelmingly want.