POLICY

With '15 energy plan, N.Y. bids to become cleanest energy state in U.S.

New York made a bold declaration about clean energy yesterday with a state energy plan that promises a host of policy efforts aimed at scrubbing the state of fossil fuels and advancing a future heavy on distributed generation and renewable energy.

The much-anticipated document from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) lays out targets under the state's fast-moving "reforming the energy vision" (REV) for electricity and complementary programs for other areas. Taken together, the promised targets under those programs listed in the document would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The targets by 2030 include: a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels, a 50 percent statewide goal for renewable generation and a 23 percent cut from 2012 levels for energy consumption in buildings.

Alongside these targets was an announcement by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that Cuomo will seek $5 billion over 10 years to support programs like the NY-Sun solar initiative and the New York Green Bank. That is in addition to a separate 10-year, $1.5 billion NYSERDA proposal to promote large-scale solar and wind projects.

The state energy plan, while nonbinding, seeks to set the tone as a kind of road map for the ongoing REV proceeding, as well as other programs. If one thing was clear in the far-reaching document, it was that the REV reforms -- aimed at overhauling the power grid in favor of distributed generation and demand -- will be crucial to achieve the ambitious goals set forth.

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A "frequently asked questions" document attached to the plan describes three "pillars" to meet all the goals set out above: the REV process through the Public Service Commission, the NYSERDA Clean Energy Fund, and changes to the New York Power Authority's strategy to reduce energy demand and serve as a model for the state's private utilities.

As for the cost, the document describes incentives to come that will prod consumers into lowering their energy use, while REV is meant to "unleash new market opportunities" for new players seeking to capitalize on the state's proposed transformation.

The plan also warns about an over-reliance on natural gas and pledges to help avoid $30 billion in needed transmission upgrades over the next 10 years largely through REV. The argument is made that improving the state's generation load capacity utilization -- which is about 55 percent today -- will yield up to $330 million in annual savings to ratepayers by ending the need for peak generation in favor of a distributed grid.

"The overall system is both energy and capital inefficient," the energy plan says, adding that the answer is to "spend prudently the required capital on infrastructure improvements, in ways that improve the grid's overall system efficiency.

"Solutions that reduce or shift peak load such as demand management systems, energy efficiency and energy storage, most often require significantly less capital investment," the plan says. "These solutions should be seriously considered, wherever practical, as complementary to investments in smart transmission and distribution infrastructure to meet the system's reliability needs."

The document returns time and time again to REV, saying it will "unlock these savings by facilitating and encouraging investment (particularly private capital investment) in cost-effective, clean distributed energy resources and other solutions that will reduce peak load and improve system efficiency."

Enviros find a lot to like

While many were still processing the document late yesterday, the initial feedback from environmentalists was jubilant, but also cautious, because the energy plan is nonbinding.

Jackson Morris, writing in a blog for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said if the goals are achieved, New York will have established itself as a global leader on clean energy and climate policy -- and meet its obligations under U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan.

Morris, former director of strategic engagement at the Pace Energy & Climate Center at Pace Law School, described the Empire State as a trailblazer alongside California, Hawaii and Vermont. He said the "most important high-level components" are:

  • The 23 percent efficiency target by 2030, which Morris argued will be best realized by the PSC rolling out polices under REV to get state agencies and utilities to lead by example. Indeed, the energy plan itself refers to a 3 percent dip in energy use by state agencies from 2011 to 2014, resulting in "$60 million to $70 million" in avoided energy costs for taxpayers.
  • The 50 percent renewables goal by 2050, which Morris said would be partly achieved by developing a robust offshore wind market, though no projects have yet been built.
  • The greenhouse gas target, which will be applied across electricity, industry, buildings and transportation.

Conor Bambrick, air and energy director for Environmental Advocates of New York, was equally excited, saying, "The governor and his team deserve credit for such an aggressive plan," but he worried the Legislature may not follow suit.

"We look forward to working with the administration to ensure these promises are kept and that all of the decisions our state makes moving forward are done with a clear eye on whether they help or hurt us in achieving these goals," he said. "We will also work with the Legislature to codify them. The Assembly passed legislation to do this [A.6072], but Senate leadership has failed to bring the bill up for a vote. It is time for these goals to be set into law."

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