New York's Banner Year for Clean Energy and Climate

Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2015 Energy Developments

When it comes to clean energy--solar and wind power in particular--2015 was a banner year in New York State. The Empire State climbed the solar charts and witnessed the largest wind power purchase agreement in New York's history. But there was much, much more. New York has put in place nation-leading policies that are creating good jobs, saving consumers money on energy, helping our kids breathe cleaner air, and mitigating the serious impacts of climate change.

New York will see more clean energy, like the kind generated by this Saratoga Springs solar array, thanks to important new policies the state enacted in 2015. (Photo credit: Redi-Rock International, via Flickr)

The biggest news of 2015--the really big news--came this month, as world leaders met in Paris to create a historic climate agreement. As a direct contribution to that effort, Governor Cuomo charged the state's Public Service Commission, which regulates our utilities, with designing and enacting a new Clean Energy Standard that will ensure New York gets a full 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like solar and on- and offshore wind power by 2030. That's an impressive accomplishment, to say the least.

In terms of ambition, only California has a 2030 standard that's equal to New York's. That isn't just good news for our climate and our kids' lungs. The new standard, along with other important clean energy policies the governor has put in place this year, is spurring innovation and expanding job growth here in New York State, because clean energy companies now have the policy certainty they need to grow their businesses and their payrolls, too.

Let's review some of the other great clean energy and climate news that came out of the Empire State in 2015:

Helping Cities and Towns Become Clean Energy Leaders: In January, Governor Cuomo announced two unparalleled programs designed to help cities and towns become clean energy leaders. The Five Cities Energy Plan assists Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers in cutting their energy use and boosting renewable energy, with savings to total as much as $400 million annually. The New York State Community Partnership will help smaller communities cut their carbon emissions and increase their deployment of clean energy through centralized tools and resources. These efforts aren't just critical to achieving the state's climate and energy goals, they will also help spur economic development and community revitalization.

A New Wind Power Record: On March 2nd, during the hour between 1 and 2 pm, wind power supplied a full 7 percent of the state's electricity--an all-time high. Installed wind power capacity has grown from a mere 48 megawatts in 2005 to 1,746 megawatts in 2015--enough to power about 400,000 homes. The new Clean Energy Standard, along with the recent extension of key federal clean energy tax incentives, will likely push those numbers far higher, especially if New York creates a new offshore wind set-aside in the Clean Energy Standard.

Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Initiative Starts Redesigning Our Electric System To Meet 21st Century Challenges: The much-watched REV proceeding, New York's effort to make the state's electric system cleaner, more resilient and more affordable, achieved significant progress this year, mapping out answers to deep-in-the-weeds policy questions, like whether there will be a system operator at the retail level, who can own distributed energy resources, and how to encourage a transition to electric vehicles. Of special significance, the PSC affirmed its commitment to ensuring REV outcomes benefit the efficiency needs of low- to moderate-income New Yorkers, who spend far more than average consumers on energy.

Increasing Commitments To Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy: In June, as part of the State Energy Plan, New York pledged to cut energy consumption in buildings by 23 percent by 2030. That's important because energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to cut carbon pollution, and because the state, which was once a national efficiency leader, has recently slipped to a relatively lowly number 9 in the state rankings offered by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The pledge dovetails well with the 50 x '30 directive, too. After all, meeting demand with "negawatts" means chasing 50 percent of a smaller overall energy pie in 2030.

In addition, the PSC launched a shared renewables program that will ensure that the benefits of clean energy are available to all New Yorkers. As part of the REV proceeding, the state is also poised to make major commitments to clean energy. Included in the 10-year, $5 billion Clean Energy Fund proposal is support for the NY-Sun solar initiative, New York's pioneering Green Bank (see below), and other programs. The state is also considering a $1.5 billion, large-scale renewables program. That, in turn, will jumpstart utility-scale solar and on- and offshore wind power development over the next 10 years. We expect PSC action on all of those initiatives in early 2016.

New York Green Bank Makes Its First Loans: The New York Green Bank aims to provide training wheels that will help unseasoned private lenders learn the advantages of lending to clean energy businesses. (Financial institutions often consider the clean energy field to be too new and too untested to loan in.) Leveraging as much as $178 million in private capital, the NYGB this October made its first $49 million in loans to solar, wind power and energy efficiency companies. They'll likely be just the first, but not the last, to benefit from this innovative, public-private approach to finance.

Governor Cuomo Signs The Under 2 MOU: States, cities, regions, and provinces hold many of the keys to keeping our planet's temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the amount scientists say is necessary to stave off climate change's worst effects. This October, with Nobel Prize-Winner Al Gore looking on, and an audience of Columbia University students, advocates and regular citizens on hand, Governor Cuomo added New York to the growing list of 123 states, countries, cities and other so-called sub-nationals that have committed to cutting greenhouse gas pollution by 80 to 95 percent by 2050.

Vetoing A Natural Gas Terminal That Would Have Blocked Offshore Wind Power Development: The wind blows hard off New York's coast. But utilities and other clean power developers wouldn't have been able to take advantage of it if a proposed offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal were in the way. Citing efforts to ramp up offshore wind power among other compelling reasons to oppose the Port Ambrose LNG project, Governor Cuomo rejected it this November.

New York Supports Clean Transportation and Smart Growth: The transportation sector is one of the state's biggest sources of carbon pollution. Appropriately, then, New York joined four northeastern states and the District of Columbia in November in committing to a regional strategy to jointly reduce carbon emissions from their transportation sectors, including market-based possibilities that build on the success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. In its State Energy Plan, New York also committed to providing investment incentives for smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD) projects, as well as the creation of an interagency TOD working group to help further reduce vehicle miles traveled.

Attorney General Schneiderman Uses The Law To Protect Our Climate: November also saw important action by AG Eric Schneiderman. On the very same day he spearheaded 18 states' efforts to protect the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan in federal court, his office announced an official investigation into whether ExxonMobil deliberately misled investors by downplaying climate change risks. Not only that, but in November as well, his office reached a settlement with the nation's largest coal company, Peabody Energy, that requires Peabody to disclose to investors more information about the risks climate change poses to its business.

Building on Success

As 2015 comes to a close, NRDC celebrates New York's many clean power accomplishments. These aren't just achievements in themselves. They're also models other states can use to increase their jobs numbers and save consumers significant money on energy, all while they help protect our kids and our country's future.

At NRDC, we look forward to working with the Empire State's leadership in the coming year, as we have in the past. In particular, we aim to help New York realize its considerable offshore wind power potential, to create an enforceable energy efficiency standard that slashes energy waste, and to promote the benefits of solar power and energy efficiency for low- and middle-income New Yorkers. In 2016, New York is poised to help lead the nation in clean energy again, just as it made 2015 a banner year.

About the Authors

Kit Kennedy

Director, Energy & Transportation program

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