Testimony of the Green Legal and Education Fund Inc.
To the NYS Assembly Energy Committee Hearing
on the Future of Renewable Energy Programs in NYS
September 16, 2016
My name is Mark Dunlea and I am President of the Board of the Green Education and Legal Fund, which promotes the values of the green movement particularly in the area of ecology. I am also co-convener of the 100% Renewables Now NYS, which promotes 100% clean energy by 2030; co-chair of the legislative and executive action committee of the People’s Climate Movement NY; and, the steering committee of 350NYC.
I want to thank Assemblymember Paulin and the Energy Committee for holding this important hearing on the Future of Renewable Energy Programs in NYS. The call for the hearing identified three key issues to be addressed: The overall performance of the RPS program in developing renewable energy; the role of investor-owned utilities and public power authorities in procuring renewable energy; and, the establishment of realistic and attainable goals for statewide renewable energy capacity
NYS Should set a Goal of 100% renewables by 2030, at least 50% Renewable by 2025
New York must set and meet ambitious goals for greenhouse gas reductions. The starting point should not be what is considered realistic under present political and economic conditions but instead should be based on an assessment what is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Once that latter assessment is made, then the state needs to determine the steps needed to get us there. Scientists say we have to begin now to rapidly reduce carbon emissions to zero over the next 15 years in order to avert catastrophic global warming.
The Jacobson plan by Cornell and Stanford professors should that is it possible with existing technology for the state to transition to 100% clean energy by 2030. The study found that 4.5 million jobs would be created through the build out, and the resulting cost of electricity would be half that of a fossil fuel energy system. Other studies indicate that a highly industrial state like New York can achieve 100% clean energy even faster. (Some studies push for 2050 to reflect current political and economic barriers).
New York State recently released its 2015 State Energy Plan, which specifies a 50% by 2030 renewable energy goal. GELF recommends that it be amended to adopt a goal of 100% clean energy by 2030 (excluding nuclear, natural gas, garbage incineration), or at least net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
A business-as-usual and/or reliance on free markets will not achieve the needed transition to 100% renewables in a timely fashion. We need a mobilization of resources and political will similar to what the US did after Pearl Harbor to protect the nation. And we need a detailed plan outlining the steps, resources and timeline to accomplish this very challenging transformation.
State support and subsidies for renewable energy should not be phased out unless or until the REV’s market approach proves it can meet the state climate goals.
We urge passage of A7497 / S5527 to amend the state energy master plan to adopt a goal of 100% clean energy (net zero carbon emissions) by 2030; to fund further study on how to achieve such goal; and to begin the significant investment needed to accomplish such goal.
The State’s Present RPS has not produced the needed results. Needs stronger goals, more funded, individual benchmarks for each utility
The state’s prior effort to reach a goal of getting 30% of its electricity through renewables by 2015 fell significantly short. Instead, only 3% of renewables (wind and solar) has been added over the last decade, bringing the total to renewables to 22% of the state’s electric energy (19% is from long time hydro facilities).
The poor performance of the RPS over the last decade highlights the urgent need for the state to be more aggressive in promoting renewables, including large scale. It is difficult to understand the Cuomo’s administration logic for proposing that funding for RPS / LSR should largely continue at the level of the prior RPS which was so inadequate to the task.
The state should increase the RPS to 50% by 2025 and 100% by 2030. Utilities should also individually be given actual benchmarks they must meet. We support the thrust of the recommendations on RPS by the Pace Climate and Energy System. (energy.pace.edu/publications/new-yorks-renewable-portfolio-standard-where-here).
The LSR Options Paper suggested an investment level of $1.5 Billion over 10 years – though it is unclear how much would actually be invested by the state and when. Based on the State’s past poor performance in promoting renewables, the investment of $1.5 billion is way too little. The amount of investment in the LSR Program should be based on the amount of renewable energy New York needs to achieve its present 50% goal. $1.5 billion represents less than 1% of what New Yorkers spend on electricity, and the level of investment should be higher.
The program should have a periodic review to analyze if the level of investment is achieving the amount necessary to get to the state’s goals. And the level of investment should not be back-loaded for future years as was proposed, because we need to get projects built soon and start to realize the climate change and clean air benefits sooner.
Until the state has achieved clean energy levels and greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, it should reject a goal of ending subsidies for developing clean energy.
The RPS should be statewide. Long Island (LIPA) is not part of the current Renewable Portfolio Standard, which undermines renewable energy development efforts, particularly when it comes to the development of offshore wind. Long Island currently has just 3% renewable energy in its electricity mix, and this needs to be improved. NYPA customers should also contribute to the new LSR Program, so that all New Yorkers are supporting new clean renewable energy.
The new LSR program should be established ASAP, so that planning and procurement for new renewable energy projects can start soon, and NY can be on track to achieve carbon and renewable energy goals. It can take up to 5 years for a wind power or other project to conduct environmental and interconnection reviews and receive all permits and approvals. The program needs to begin soon and have certainty over the long-term.
The new LSR program should require utilities to enter into long-term contracts for renewable energy, also known as bundled power purchase agreements (PPAs), so that projects can get financed and built in NY. To actually get new clean energy projects built, the developers take risks and they need to have some opportunities to recoup their investments. If a project has a PPA, they have more and better options for financing, which increases the chances that the project will come to fruition. (If not a PPA, then a Feed in Tariff program.)
We must also be mindful of the need to eliminate carbon emissions, not just increase renewables. This is one reasons why we must stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure now; once we built it, we will use it for decades. All new infrastructure must directly support the rapid transition to renewable power technologies.
The RPS / LSR program needs to include a major carve out for off-shore wind. There are no current operating offshore wind projects in NY or the US. Offshore wind has great potential in New York and it will be necessary to attract offshore wind development to New York in order to meet the state’s renewable energy goals. The state should commit to a PPA of 5,000 MW of off-shore wind by 2025 and 10,000 MW by 2030. Our discussions with state energy officials indicate a weak commitment to off-shore wind by the Cuomo administration, relying upon “market forces” rather than making the major upfront commitments (e.g., PPA) that will enable off-shore wind to develop and reduce costs.
The new LSR program should be designed, through a carve-out or locational delivery requirement, to attract offshore wind development and the associated supply chain, economic, and jobs benefits. Offshore wind development off Long Island is close to the significant demand for electricity in New York City and Long Island, and the wind resources can produce electricity in the afternoons, the time of peak demand. Offshore wind has been successfully developed in Europe for 20 years and we need to bring that industry to NY.
A January 2015 Oceana report  found that New York has 11.6 gigawatts of offshore wind potential. That’s enough energy to power over 9 million households. They also found that 134 GW of off-shore wind off of the East Coast is possible through a gradual and modest development over the next 20 years.
A March 2015 report from NYSERDA and the University of Delaware, the New York Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Study,  concluded that OSW could become the most viable option for delivering large-scale renewable electricity generation to New York City and Long Island. The report outlined the key steps necessary for reducing the costs of offshore wind power in New York State. The costs could be reduced by as much as 50% during this time period via the combined actions of: specific actions taken by New York State and/or other states, ongoing technological improvements, and continuing industry advances; according to the new study/report. One of the key conclusions is that support of offshore wind energy development at scale, rather than on a project-by-project basis, would have the greatest effect on costs amongst the economical options.
Off shore wind will reduce electricity prices for New Yorkers because it is the only LSR resource at the scale necessary to produce electricity to the New York City and Long Island suburbs during times of peak demand. By producing power when demand is highest, OSW will also defer the need for peaking fossil-fuel plants, which disproportionately harm the surrounding communities with dirty air and water.
Investments in renewable energy are the path to full employment. The Oceana report estimated that NYS could create about 16,000 lifelong jobs from off-shore wind.
Off shore wind is especially ripe as an economic development tool. There is presently no off-shore wind farm in the US, though a small project recently broke ground in Block Island. The first large scale project (e.g., at least 700 MW) will provide the critical mass not only to reduce overall construction costs but lead to the infrastructure investment to support that project (e.g., ports, turbine factories, shipping, platform, supplies, etc.). Whichever community initiates the first large scale off-shore wind farm will be ideally positioned to build out other off-shore wind projects along the East Coast.
Studies commissioned by NYPA have shown that a single OSW project could generate total economic activity of $1 billion in sales, 8,700 job-years and $610 million in wages for New York State. A 2014 study by Stony Brook University looking at OSW potential off Long Island found that a “single 250 MW offshore wind project is estimated to result in 2,864 construction and 13 operations phase jobs on Long Island, as well as approximately $645 million in Long Island economic output during construction and operations. If Long Island were to capture 2,500 MW of the potential offshore wind development, the JEDI model projects that Long Island would benefit from 58,457 construction and operations phase jobs, as well as approximately $12.9 billion in local economic output.”
Make the Market Work Correctly: Enact a State Carbon Tax
One of the biggest obstacles to transitioning to clean energy is that the market prices of coal, oil and gas don’t include the true costs of carbon pollution. A carbon tax also encourages alternative energy by making it cost-competitive with cheaper fuels. A carbon tax is in alignment with the state’s goal of relying upon market forces to determine the allocation of energy sources. The present system provides a massive subsidy to companies burning fossil fuels by not holding them financially responsible for the tens of billions dollars of additional costs incurred annually by the state and consumers to deal with the health and other environmental problems from burning fossil fuels.
The present carbon tax bill (A8372 / S6037) would start at $35 a ton and then increase in annual increments of $15 a ton. 60% of the revenues would be rebated to low and moderate income consumers. The remaining forty percent will support the transition to one hundred percent clean energy in the state, to support mass transit, to reduce carbon emissions, and to improve climate change adaptation. Such funds shall include payments and subsidies for renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency measures, improvements in infrastructure, improvements in mass transit capacity, agricultural adaptation measures, protection of low-lying areas including coastlines, and emergency responses to extreme weather events.
While it would be better to enact a robust national carbon tax as others countries have already done, Congress is too gridlock to take such action. However, there are still benefits to New York taking action. In Canada, British Columbia has long had a carbon tax. Carbon tax bills are pending in Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon and Washington.
Polls show that 64% of Americans (including a majority of Republicans) support a carbon tax if the proceeds are used to fund renewables. However, a portion of the carbon tax should be rebated to low and moderate income consumers to offset the regressive nature of any energy tax.
Promote Energy Democracy
The transition to an energy based system is a critical opportunity to ensure community, worker and public ownership of energy. It is an opportunity to promote energy democracy, so that residents and communities can be full participants in a clean energy future, from owning renewable energy projects, controlling how we distribute energy, or gaining the power to make decisions about how energy investments are made in our neighborhoods.
As Pope Frances recently noted, a major reason why present efforts to reduce climate change have been so inadequate is that the short term profits of a few fossil companies have been allowed to take precedence of the needs of the majority of residents. We need to promote decentralized public and community ownership and operation of our energy systems (e.g., microgrids). Decentralized energy systems will also energy the energy system to better function during severe weather events.
We support the recommendations by the NYS Energy Democracy Alliance related to equity and fairness, including:
- Equity and fairness: all new Yorkers pay into the funds that support state energy programs, and all should benefit
- Environmental and social justice: low income new Yorkers and people of color have been disproportionately excluded from the benefits of clean energy programs, face a substantially greater financial burden in paying energy bills, are far more likely to have had their power cut off, and to have been hit by the effects of climate change and pollution from conventional fossil fuels.
- Geographic fairness: New Yorkers who live west of the Hudson valley and north of the capital districts are not able to equally benefit from clean energy incentives as current incentive levels do not result in sufficient savings for building owners or profits for developers, installers and investors.
We are very concerned that a central focus of the state (e.g., REV) is to increase the role of private markets in moving us to a renewable energy future. The development of REV has been highly influenced by New York’s investor-owned utility companies (like National Grid, ConEdison, RG&E, etc). The state should avoid handing the design of and responsibilities for our renewable energy and energy efficiency programs over to the for-profit investor-owned utilities. Instead, energy markets should be overseen by an independent statewide institution, democratically governed by representatives from a variety of public interest sectors and stakeholders.
NYS should enable municipal and other local government entities to function as the operator of the distributed system platform including in conjunction with other non-profit entities. Consumers have been more consistently protected from high prices, exploitation and market abuses by municipally owned and operated systems. We don’t believe that only utilities should be performing this function.
Public interest organizations, community groups and public advocates should be funded to intervene in the various state proceedings relating to the future of NY’s energy system.
We need a substantial plan developed specifically for low and fixed income consumers to ensure that energy remains affordable for them. We need Public- Private Partnerships that engage local governments and non-profits in integrated planning for preferred energy choices that deliberately address low income consumers, multi-family buildings, job creation, climate and emergency preparedness, potentially including microgrids. Community resilience planning also protects the grid from the impacts of severe weather events—a benefit that cannot be provided exclusively by a utility and one that can be costly.
A Just Transition to renewables should also assist workers and local communities impacted by the shutdown of fossil fuel plants. Workers needed to be provided with job training and preferences in being hired for new positions. Additional measures would include a concentration on the creation of good, union jobs in the process. Government workers should be employed where possible, both because it is less expensive in the long run and because the development of the in-house expertise is critical to providing long term, coherent oversight and enforcement.
Green Education and Legal Fund Inc
315 Greene Ave., #2B, Brooklyn NY 11238
firstname.lastname@example.org, 518 860-3725
 For instance, the Clean Energy Fund proposal indicates that the State is recommending allocations of just $3 million per year for 2015-2018 for LSRs and a one-time $150 mil for 2015 for Main Tier RPS.
 Economic Impact Assessment: Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project. Prepared for NYPA by AWS Truepower and Camion Associates. Contract No. 4500191884. at 10 (November 1, 2010.)
 New York Energy and Policy Institute- Stony Brook University, “Offshore Wind Energy and Potential Economic Impacts in Long Island”, 12-13 (Nov. 24, 2014).