Will Cuomo and LIPA deliver on renewable energy promises for Long Island tomorrow?

By deciding on a slate of proposed clean energy projects tomorrow, the trustees of the Long Island Power Authority, the public utility that serves New York’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, can finally make good on the utility’s long-delayed promise to bring 280 megawatts of clean energy to the residents of grid-strained Long Island, which has too long relied on antiquated, polluting power plants.

The projects under consideration include several large solar projects, along with what NRDC hopes could become one of the nation’s first offshore wind power projects. It’s called Deepwater One and is planned for a site 30 miles east of Montauk. These much-needed renewable energy resources, both solar and offshore wind, offer many advantages to Long Islanders—pollution-free power at competitive prices, good jobs, cleaner air, less global warming. Also importantly, this clean energy will help meet peak demand, especially on the grid-constrained eastern portion of Long Island. For all these reasons, Long Islanders deserve the full 280 megawatts of clean power that LIPA has long promised. Indeed, under a state law enacted in 2013, LIPA has a legal obligation to follow through with this renewable energy commitment.

Solar power, of course, has a great many benefits to offer the area. That’s why NRDC pushed for New York to adopt the NY-Sun program, which has greatly expanded solar power across the state, with much more to come. And Long Island has long been a solar leader in the state, notable for its 10,000 solar installations and the largest solar array on the East Coast, at Brookhaven National Laboratory. But the solar power projects under consideration by LIPA won’t be enough for LIPA to deliver the full 280 megawatts of renewable energy that it has promised. To make all of it possible, the trustees have to include the offshore wind power Long Island deserves. And there are compelling reasons for Long Island to help unleash the clean power of offshore wind. Two just-released recent studies by researchers at SUNY Stonybrook find the wind power project will have “essentially no impact” on consumers’ bills, and that just a single offshore wind power project could employ several hundred Long Islanders for several years; the development of an offshore wind power industry could eventually put thousands of Long Islanders to work.

Indeed, “[p]revalent wind conditions found offshore Long Island present a tremendous opportunity to generate clean, renewable energy at the capacity needed to meet NY State’s renewable and energy efficiency goals,” a bi-partisan group of Long Island state assembly members wrote to Governor Cuomo (who appoints the LIPA board) in October, “including reaching the 50% carbon emission reduction by 2030 and the 80% reduction by 2050.” They’re right on target. That’s why the project, which lies beyond the Long Island horizon and won’t be visible even from Montauk Point, has broad support across the area—from labor and business leaders, elected officials from all parties, environmentalists and ordinary Long Islanders.

Long Island’s hometown newspaper, Newsday, has taken some odd positions on renewable energy for Long Island. In an editorial today, Newsday asked “why the rush” on renewable energy—as if the ravages of Superstorm Sandy didn’t send a strong enough message on the need to move forward on clean energy for Long Island, and as if Long Islanders haven’t waited long enough while LIPA dragged its feet on delivering clean energy for Long Islanders. The editorial also suggested that the program would require LIPA to choose either solar power or offshore wind. That’s just not so, as mentioned above. LIPA can and should move forward with both.

With tomorrow’s decision, there’s much progress that can be made. We hope that Governor Cuomo and LIPA will do what’s best for Long Island: live up to its long overdue commitments to deliver a full program of renewable energy for Long Island and advance both offshore wind power and solar power together. Long Islanders will benefit from them both.

NRDC has long been a fierce advocate for countless clean energy projects—including solar and wind—on Long Island and nationwide. And we’ll continue pushing New York and our nation down this path toward a better future for our children and grandchildren.