Equitable Access to Clean Energy in New York at Climate Week

As our country and others throughout the hemisphere reel from this record-breaking hurricane season, United Nations Climate Week that took place last month in New York City was never more timely or important. NRDC along with our partner groups, New Yorkers for Clean Power, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, hosted a forum titled Clean Energy for All: Access and Equity in New York’s Clean Energy Transition, featuring speakers from the Association for Energy Affordability, BlocPower, Con Edison, Solar One, and WE ACT. There were also introductory remarks from John Rhodes, Chairman of the New York Public Service Commission and former president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), outlining many of the broad efforts the state has underway to meet our ambitious clean energy goals, such as the requirement that 50% of New York’s electric needs be met by renewable resources by 2030.

In the context of New York’s leading climate and clean energy efforts, members of the Clean Energy for All panel hammered home that access to energy efficiency and renewable energy products and services is a right, not a privilege. And for New York State to hope to reach its ambitious climate and clean energy goals it is essential that everyone in New York is able to access the benefits of energy efficiency retrofits that improve the performance, comfort and health of their buildings, along with clean, renewable electricity and heating and cooling technology for their buildings, no matter their income or address.

To show the reach of clean energy opportunities E2 also unveiled its new Mapping Clean Energy: NY page, which shows the phenomenal growth of clean energy in New York, all across the state, with opportunities for homes and businesses to access renewables and electric vehicles, save money, and create good local, jobs.

Everyone needs to be included in the new energy economy, and there need to be benefits accruing directly to low income customers, especially the most vulnerable households. As one example to help ensure equitable clean energy access, NRDC, along with our partners, the National Housing Trust, Energy Foundation, and Elevate Energy, lead the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) project. EEFA has been working for the past four years in 12 states, including New York, to bring together the energy and housing sectors to tap the benefits of energy efficiency for millions of Americans living on limited incomes and to promote effective utility energy efficiency programs for affordable building owners and healthy and affordable housing for residents.    

Other efforts underway in New York State to help expand access to clean energy include the New York Public Service Commission’s order on community distributed generation (also known as shared renewables) that in 2015 paved the way for access to clean sources of energy for all New Yorkers (discussed here). Although there is enormous potential for this market segment, it has yet to be fully realized. With the finalization of the initial Value of Distributed Energy Resources tariff, the first large set of projects is poised to take root. But significant improvements will be needed in an update of that tariff for the sector to realize its full potential (as discussed by my colleague Miles Famer here).

At the local level, the New York City Solar Partnership has created solarize campaigns for individual neighborhoods or other groups of residents (more about that here), as well as a shared solar program to match subscribers, hosts and developers. There have also been some groundbreaking developments with affordable housing: the Integrated Property Needs Assessment, released this year by New York’s City and State housing agencies, requires that buildings the agencies support, which house low income residents, evaluate water efficiency, energy efficiency, solar potential, and factors that impact resident health to identify opportunities for improvement (more about that from my colleague Lindsay Robbins.) So we’re making big strides in bringing the promise of the clean energy economy to everyone, but more needs to be done.

It is clear that in New York and across the country fighting climate change needs all hands on deck, with cities and states playing a key role. And with all of our great steps forward, we need to ensure that the rising clean energy tide lifts all boats. In America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Future, a new report based on comprehensive modeling by NRDC and Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), section 3.8 details recommendations to ensure there are clean energy benefits for all, including city and state policies to support weatherization, bill assistance, low cost financing, community solar and a just transition for the fossil fuel workforce. Overall, the report shows that a bold, rapid but achievable deployment of energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles and cleaner, more efficient energy use in buildings, all supported by a modernized grid, is the best way to a safer climate future for everyone.

Despite the backward-looking actions by the federal government on climate, and the specter of more truly cataclysmic impacts of severe weather, there are myriad reasons to redouble our commitment to the belief that by working together and including everyone, we can all have a bright clean energy future.

About the Authors

Samantha Wilt

Energy Policy Analyst, Energy & Transportation program

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