Cuomo’s State Energy Master Plan is Only Half Way There on Renewables

Needs Stronger Commitment to Off-Shore Wind; Plan Weak on Details, Benchmarks and Timelines

Climate change activists said today that Governor Cuomo’s call for 50% of the state’s electricity to be met by renewables by 2030 is a step in the right reduction but still far short of needed action.

The newly released State Energy Master Plan 2015 should embrace the goal of 100% of all energy – including heating, cooling, transportation – to be provided by renewable energy and energy conservation by 2030. Studies have shown that this is technologically possible – though significant political and economic challenges exist. More than 75 environmental, labor and faith groups have endorsed the call and more than a dozen legislators are sponsoring a bill (A7497 / S527) to require the State Energy Master Plan to adopt the 100% clean energy by 2030 standard.

The plan also fails to address the need for a just transition, to ensure that the needs of those most vulnerable to climate change are adequately addressed, starting with the poor. Financial support also needs to be provided to assist workers and local governments as fossil fuel facilities are shut down. It also fails to recognize that the climate change crisis is now the biggest health crisis facing the planet. Nor does it calls to electrify almost all energy uses (e.g., vehicles, heating / cooling) which is essential for achieving a 100% clean energy future.

Many mainstream environmental groups had urged a target of at least 50% renewables by 2025, so the plan pushed that target back by 50%… The state’s efforts over the last decade to promote renewables fell far short of the goal of 30% renewables by 2015, adding only 3 to 4% to the existing 19% from hydro. (The plan is at http://energyplan.ny.gov/Plans/2014.aspx). The Plan does not appear to include the extension of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, with clear mandates and timelines for individual utility companies. For instance, with a goal of adding on 25% more renewables over 15 years, there should be goals set for say every 3 years to measure progress and to take corrective action if the state again falls short.

“The plan released today is an improvement over the draft, but falls short of the commitment needed to protect New Yorkers from the growing dangers of climate change. The plan falls far short of saying that the era of fossil fuels is over, and it is too little too late in promoting renewables and conservation,” noted Mark Dunlea, chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF).

“The Pope’s encyclical correctly concluded that the capitalist system’s drive for profit was the root cause of the climate and ecological crisis. Yet the Cuomo administration’s treated the roll out of the energy plan as a sales pitch for venture capitalists. While its great that renewables are increasingly a better investment than fossil fuels, we need a mass mobilization of the state’s resources to ensure that a quick transition to clean energy is achieved. Blind faith in the free market isn’t going solve the problem. And one also needs to take direct action to drive down greenhouse gas emissions, not just rely on the increase in renewables to accomplish that goal,” added Prof. Steve Breyman.

The group called upon state officials, including the Assembly’s newly formed Climate Change Task Force, to hold public hearings on how the plan can be further strengthened and developed. It also supports requiring the state and local governments to adopt detailed Climate Action Plans on how to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Green Education and Legal Fund said it was good that the state was setting timelines for 2030 rather than just 2050, but that a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 would not be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. It said that in general the plan was lacking in clear details and benchmarks.

GELF said its response was based on an initial review of the plan, focusing on the points highlighted by the state, and that it would have more detailed comments in the following days.

Activists are concerned that the Plan seemed more of a general┬ápromotion and outline of the state’s Reforming Energy Vision proceeding rather than a comprehensive energy plan. The new plan largely ignored the role of natural gas, fossil fuels and nuclear – though it seems the Cuomo administration continues to support these fuel sources. The Cuomo administration has also been providing hundreds of millions of dollars to bailout coal plants in Western and Central New York; elected officials yesterday released a letter calling upon Cuomo to halt the bailouts. (http://bit.ly/1SPKEsl) GELF supports a quick end to the use of these energy sources. These energy sources were promoted in the draft plan and the reasons for their absence from the final plan was not clear.

GELF supports a rapid shutdown of existing nuclear power plants (e.g., Indian Point) and an immediate halt to any additional investments in fossil fuels (including natural gas) and related infrastructure. It would also reject the proposal for a liquified natural gas facility in Pt. Ambrose off of Long Island and replace it with a major off-shore wind farm.

Groups did support the call in the state energy plan to promote shared renewables. The plan also embraces Community Choice Aggregation to allow residents of local municipalities to collectively purchase power. The PSC recently approved the first CCA in Westchester County. The State said it would actively explore a more advanced form of CCA, often referred to as CCA 2.0, wherein municipalities would take a proactive role, in partnership with their local utility, in planning and designing community-scale deployment of distributed energy resources, as well as implementing collective energy procurement strategies.

While the plan did call for expansion of off-shore wind, including support for regional collaboration with other states, it fails to set specific goals such as 5,000 MW of off-shore wind by 2025 and 10,000 MW by 2030. Groups wants the state’s Large Scale Renewable to have a specific carve-out for off shore wind and a commitment to major Power Purchase Agreement.

While the plan makes mention of organic management, it doesn’t call for a phase-out out of fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides, the promotion of organic agriculture, or a major statewide composting initiative. Agriculture is one of largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and potentially a huge source of carbon sequestration in organic soils.

GELF would also support a more aggressive overhaul of the state’s building code to mandate the new buildings be carbon free and to incentivize reduction in energy use in existing buildings. The plan does commit to state to reduce energy use in buildings by 23%.

The plan fails to make a commitment to a major increase in state funding for mass transit, starting with the MTA. Nor does it have an plan to transition all vehicles to non-fossil fuels (e.g., electricity) in the future (i.e., by 2025).

Despite the plan’s reliance on the power of the market place, it failed to address issues such as the need for a carbon tax to recapture some of the costs from burning fossil fuels (e.g., health problems from air pollution) or divesting the state pension plans from fossil fuels.

 

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