December 31, 2018

NY Governor Wants Zero-Carbon Electricity by 2040

A “politically easy” move or an ambitious target?


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that he will push for New York to transition to 100 percent clean electricity by 2040, in a statement outlining his agenda for early 2019. 

The announcement places New York in a small but growing group of states, including neighboring New Jersey, as well as California, Hawaii and most recently Washington, that have announced goals or legally committed to 100 percent clean energy.


Cuomo’s target comes after the state Public Service Commission approved an ambitious target of 3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2030 and the third stage of the state’s Clean Energy Standard, which aims for 50 percent renewables in the electricity mix by 2030. That standard gives New York a decade to close the gap between 50 percent renewables and 100 percent carbon-free with “clean” sources. 

Last year, nearly one-third of New York’s in-state generation came from renewable sources, according to the Energy Information Administration, while one-third of electricity came from nuclear plants. Natural gas currently leads the state’s electricity generation, with about 35 percent of the mix in 2015, according to data from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. New York ranks tenth in solar installations.

The announcement from Cuomo — which is currently a goal, not a legal target — is “politically easy” because it pushes consequences out past 2030, said Wade Schauer, research director at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Though Cuomo’s agenda said the target will make New York “the most progressive state in the nation in moving to renewables,” Schauer said the New York target is "vastly less aggressive" than California’s suite of policies, which include a legally binding target of 60 percent renewable by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free by 2045 target.

California does not include existing large hydro plants in its renewables count; New York includes large hydroelectric power in its baseline, although new impoundments do not count toward the 50 percent goal. Other imported renewables put in operation after January 1, 2015 are also eligible. 

“In California, only Tier 1 renewables count towards the 2030 target,” said Schauer in an email. “Add in SB 1090 [requiring California to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility with carbon free sources] and large hydro, and California has to be almost 85 percent carbon-free by 2030, assuming they can hit that.”

WoodMac assumes New York will build a few gas-fired plants in the next five to 10 years, and Schauer said this target means they’ll have only about two decades to recoup investment. If the governor gets his way with a target, those projects could be shelved altogether. 

Accommodating natural-gas independent power producers has been and will continue to be a big challenge in New York, said Jigar Shah, co-founder and president at Generate Capital.

The picture is more positive for energy storage, which will need to play a greater role on a 100 percent clean grid. Schauer said the announcement also bodes well for the state’s nuclear plants, which would likely count toward the carbon-free target.  

Cuomo framed the target as a “Green New Deal” and part of a “declaration of independence from Washington.” But the idea of a Green New Deal looks to be gaining ground in Washington as well, with support from incoming members of Congress like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Survey results released this week suggest 81 percent of registered voter respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” support the plan, which includes 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. One caveat: Most respondents also hadn’t heard of the Green New Deal.

Back In New York, environmental groups such as NY Renews, a coalition of more than 150 organizations pushing for climate action, called for the governor to go further. 

“Electricity generation represents approximately 20 percent of our state’s emissions profile and New York needs more comprehensive action to face up to the urgency of the climate crisis,” read a statement from the group. 

Environmental group 350.org joined NY Renews in calling for the governor to push forward the Climate and Communities Protection Act, which has passed the state’s assembly three times and includes a 100 percent by 2050 renewables goal. 

Bet├ímia Coronel, a national organizer with 350.org, said she welcomes Cuomo’s support for climate action, but she also cautioned against “empty rhetoric and lip service.” Coronel said concrete action to stop fossil fuel projects will indicate the governor’s seriousness about the goal. 

The Solar Energy Industries Association trade group lauded the governor’s “historic” move and noted several ways New York can get closer to the goal.

“Specific examples include doubling down on solar and committing to obtaining 6 gigawatts of solar by 2023, establishing strong policies in the ongoing Value of Distributed Energy Resources case and bringing more large-scale solar to New York," said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs, in a statement. “This plan can bring massive economic and environmental benefits to communities throughout the state, spurring many new, well-paying jobs and cleaner air.”

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