If you are a regular reader of CleanTechnica, you probably support the notion that plans to offset the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic should include a healthy dollop of investment in renewable energy, unlike vice-president Pence, who wrings his hands in public and moans about how Joe Biden wants to kill the fossil fuel industry.
What Pence doesn’t realize is that if we don’t find a way to kill the fossil fuel industry pretty quickly, we will soon make the Earth uninhabitable for humans and a few million other species as well. We have the technology available to do it. What is critical, though, is to prevent the transition to renewables from destroying the livelihoods of those who now work in the fossil fuel industry. There has to be a social justice component to any transition plan.
Largest Renewable Energy Tender
The state of New York has been a leader in both fields — promoting the transition to renewables and protecting those affected economically by that transition. Now it proposes to add 4 GW of new renewable energy to its energy portfolio — the largest clean energy package in US history.
According to PV Magazine, the proposal calls for 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind as well as 1,500 megawatts of land-based large scale renewable energy projects. The land-based plan was put together by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the New York Power Authority and is the nation’s largest coordinated solicitation for land-based large scale renewable energy projects ever by a US state.
“During one of the most challenging years New York has ever faced, we remain laser-focused on implementing our nation-leading climate plan and growing our clean energy economy, not only to bring significant economic benefits and jobs to the state, but to quickly attack climate change at its source by reducing our emissions,” says Governor Andrew Cuomo.”With these record breaking solicitations for renewable energy and new port infrastructure, New York continues to lead the way with the most ambitious Green New Deal in the nation, creating a future fueled by clean, renewable energy sources.”
New York is also proposing a public/private partnership with initial funding of $400 million to upgrade infrastructure at New York port facilities in an effort to make them a hub for the burgeoning offshore wind industry. Those improvements will focus on the use of low carbon cement as well as an emphasis on paying workers in accordance with current prevailing wage standards. Priority will be given to bids by companies with female, minority, or veteran owners, according to a press release by the State of New York.
New York has established a goal of deriving 70% of its energy needs from renewables by 2030. This latest solicitation will move the state closer to achieving that goal while providing significant opportunities for job growth. “The clean energy industry has proven to be a strong economic driver, outpacing growth in the national workforce by nearly twice the rate pre-COVID and will have a pivotal role in creating short and long-term economic activity to help local economies rebound from the pandemic after reopening,” the governor’s office says.
“The combined offshore wind and port solicitation marks an important next step in New York’s offshore wind program to build on the state’s first two offshore wind projects – Empire Wind and Sunrise Wind – which represent the single largest renewable energy procurement in U.S. history, at nearly 1,700 megawatts, and will create enough energy to power over 1 million homes.”
New York is prepared to move aggressively to get these new renewable energy facilities built in a timely fashion. To assist with that, it has created a state-wide Renewable Energy Siting Board. The governor’s announcement says, “Under the new law, all large scale renewable energy projects larger than 25 megawatts will be required to seek an approved permit through the Siting Office for new construction or expansion. New projects sized between 20 and 25 megawatts will also be able to opt in.”
The Siting Board mechanism is intended to short circuit local opposition that might object to seeing wind turbines on the horizon or agricultural land being converted to solar power plants. It’s not unusual for residents in rural areas to balk at seeing their lands used to provide power to those arrogant yuppies in New York City and Westchester county.
Already New York residents who live along the shores of Lake Ontario have objected to plans to build wind turbines offshore, and others along the Pennsylvania border have opposed other renewable energy projects. In remarks leading up to the passage of the new Renewable Energy Siting Board legislation, Cuomo said, “Setting goals without the means to achieve them is baloney. You can’t have the goals we have and then have a system of bureaucracy that takes five to 10 years to start a new energy project. It just does not work,” according to a report by Wind Watch.
While developers have cheered the new Siting Board, which should make it easier to get approvals for renewable energy projects, it doesn’t take much to realize that what Cuomo is doing in New York is not so different from what the federal government is doing as it attempts to neuter citizen opposition to oil and gas drilling on public lands. A mechanism that benefits some in certain situations can seem a lot like government overreach in other situations.
New York seems to be doing everything right when it comes to taking bold action to lower its carbon footprint. Its plans include provisions to protect underserved communities and workers who may be affected by disruptions in traditional fossil fuel industries. But its methods could lead to a backlash, as many renewable energy projects are located in rural areas of the state where support for them may not be as strong as it is in Albany and New York City.
The question is the same everywhere: We need to push forward with renewables as quickly as possible in order to confront the specter of a warming planet, but how do we do that without trampling on the rights of local communities? It’s a conundrum, that’s for certain — one with no easy answers.
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