The Public Service Commission has issued an important order which sets out a roadmap for achieving the state’s ambitious goal of obtaining 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. A press release summarizing the order is available here.
How Did We Get Here?
First, a quick recap. In July 2019, Governor Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) into law, which cemented New York State as a national leader in ramping up clean energy and the broader fight against climate change. The law requires a 40 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a reduction of at least 85 percent by 2050 as well as achieving net zero emissions by that date. No state has a more aggressive emissions reduction target. The law also requires that the state:
- obtain 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (and that the electric sector be emissions-free by 2040)
- add 9,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2035
- add 3,000 MW of storage by 2030
- add 6,000 MW of distributed solar (the type that normally goes on rooftops) by 2025 (a doubling of the current amount)
- A statewide goal of reducing energy consumption by 185 trillion British thermal units (BTUs) from the state’s 2025 forecast through energy efficiency improvements
Meeting these targets will dramatically reduce fossil fuel generation that harms the health of New Yorkers and worsens the effects of climate change while providing important job and grid benefits.
Getting to 70 Percent Clean Electricity Will Be a Heavy Lift
Achieving 70 percent renewable energy in the power sector by 2030 won’t be easy. Currently, New York gets about 28 percent of its total electricity from renewable sources, and the vast majority of this (about 80 percent) comes from large legacy hydropower facilities owned and operated by the New York Power Authority. Scaling up renewables to hit 70 percent in 10 years will require a massive amount of new clean generation to come online between now and then.
The first step to make this happen was to establish a proceeding to establish how this process will work. This past summer, the Department of Public Service, together with the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), issued a whitepaper setting out a plan for achieving this goal. NRDC along with a number of other environmental organizations filed two sets of comments (here and here) that raised a number of points, including establishing a full procurement schedule to get to 70 percent renewable energy by 2030, the creation of new tiers of renewable energy credits for existing renewable energy facilities (referred to as Tier 2), and ensuring that the program be designed to provide benefits to disadvantaged communities as required by the CLCPA.
The Order Sets Out a Path For Achieving this Goal
The order issued by the Commission largely achieves these goals. Most importantly, it sets out a timetable to achieve 70 percent clean energy by 2030 by establishing a procurement schedule with an annual target of 4,500 gigawatt hours annually (the current target is approximately 1,500 gigawatt hours). It also establishes a competitive Tier 2 program that provides financial support for existing renewable facilities (primarily solar and hydro) to ensure that these facilities can continue to operate and contribute to the state’s climate and clean energy goals. The order further authorizes NYSERDA to issue offshore wind solicitations of between 750 and 1,000 megawatt hours from 2021 to 2027.
The order also approves the creation of a Tier 4 for renewables that are located in or are directly interconnected into New York City. NRDC supports the goal of Tier 4 to ensure that New York City residents are able to access the health and carbon benefits of renewable energy, but also considers it essential that any specific contract under Tier 4 clearly demonstrate that it actually “advances the public interest” and the goals of the CLCPA. NRDC will closely monitor the implementation of the Tier 4 program to assure that these policies are followed, particularly with respect to avoiding impacts to Indigenous Peoples and frontline communities.
Equally important is ensuring the state’s aging transmission structure is upgraded and enhanced to move this renewable electricity to demand centers. In a separate order, the Commission established criteria for identifying priority transmission projects and greenlighted the first of such projects — the Northern NY Project. Identification of such projects and their completion are critical in ensuring that the goals of the CLCPA are met.
These orders are especially encouraging and necessary given the federal government’s failure to protect Americans from climate pollution. Given the Trump administration’s continued inaction on climate change, it is critical that states like New York step into the breach, taking immediate action to scale up clean energy. This order demonstrates the power of states to ensure continued climate progress and represents a critical step forward in achieving New York’s aggressive CLCPA targets.