New York Will Need More Than Renewables To Reach Climate Goals

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New York has some of the most aggressive clean energy goals in the U.S. The Empire State expects 70% of its electricity to originate from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040. While the 2030 goal is in reach, power providers say the 2040 goal is unattainable with renewables alone

“If New York State executes properly, our grid can handle the transition to 70% renewables by 2030. But how we reach zero emissions by 2040 while maintaining reliability is a massive question mark,” says Independent Power Producers of New York (IPPNY) President and CEO Gavin Donohue. “There is no single technology that is the answer, and we need all solutions on the table.”

Why should we be cautious depending upon renewables alone? As we saw last year in California, relying on an overabundance of renewable energy without ample baseload power can destabilize the power grid and cause energy supplies to be unavailable when they’re needed the most.

IPPNY, along with several labor groups, petitioned New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to develop a “new competitive program or tier under the Clean Energy Standard to encourage the development of zero emitting electric generating facilities that are not renewable energy systems.” Power providers are asking for a minimum of 1 GW of firm capacity to ensure supplies. 

What are zero-emission non-renewable sources? Nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage (CCUS), and renewable natural gas all fall within that category. These types of energy sources are dispatchable on demand but have low to no emissions. The groups have asked the New York PSC to decide by July 2022. 

Unfortunately, New York does not have an excellent track record of treating nuclear energy as an essential clean energy resource. For example, the Cuomo Administration shuttered the Indian Point nuclear plant earlier this year. This closure removed 2,060 MW of reliable, emission-free electricity from the regional grid, forcing natural gas-fired power to fill the void. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg criticized the closure of Indian Point in a 2013 report, stating, “phase-out of nuclear energy with natural gas-fired generation is estimated to increase New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 15%.”  

Ironically, New York also has a history of being hostile to natural gas, even as it increases reliance on it to provide reliable electricity. 

New York will need many tools to reach its goal of 100% clean energy. Renewables alone are not enough to decarbonize the electric grid while keeping the lights on. Hopefully, the PSC will learn from prior failures and protect reliability without forgetting affordability in the Empire State.