As New York Moves to Reshape its Electricity System, a Focus on Renewables, and Jobs

NY State MapBy Rona Cohen

Two years ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), a bold plan to restructure the electricity system to accelerate the development of cleaner forms of power, enhance the grid’s resiliency to severe weather and improve affordability for residents throughout the state.

At a recent energy conference in New York City, state officials provided details on the programs devised to support REV, and help the state meet a series of ambitious 2030 goals:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 1990 levels (and 80% by 2050);
  • Deriving 50% of all energy in the state from renewable sources; and
  • Lowering energy consumption in buildings 23% from 2012 levels.

Projects intended to help the state meet its 2030 targets include a 10-year, $5 billion Clean Energy Fund and a $1 billion New York Green Bank, a state-sponsored entity that was launched to partner with private sector lenders to support renewable-energy projects. The bank has received proposals for some $4 billion in clean-energy financing for projects throughout the state, said John Rhodes, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, during the conference. The event was organized by the Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center at Stony Brook University.

New York is also pouring funds into the development of microgrids – local energy networks that can separate, or “island” from the grid in the case of an outage, and keep electricity flowing to critical buildings. Microgrids are powered by onsite sources of generation, such as combined heat and power, and can easily incorporate solar and other forms of renewables. The NY Prize competition awarded $40 million to 83 communities to conduct feasibility studies for developing and installing community microgrids; a second phase of the program is now accepting applications.

One of the foundational elements of REV is to make clean energy and energy efficiency integral rather than ancillary to basic system planning and operations, and to provide consumers with the opportunity to play a more active role in their power use. Through a regulatory overhaul, REV envisions a dramatic transformation of the current electricity system, which for much of the last century has been powered by large-scale fossil-fuel plants located far from demand, or load, centers.

One of the anticipated outcomes of these efforts is the development of a new, clean-energy workforce, particularly in depressed rural areas and regions that will be affected by the shuttering of coal plants. In his State of the State Address last January, Gov. Cuomo vowed to retire the state’s three remaining coal-burning plants by 2020, and offset financial impacts, and job losses, with help from the state’s $19 million mitigation fund.

“We’re transitioning and replacing those jobs with clean energy and innovation,” said Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, during the conference.

Several programs developed through the Clean Energy Fund are devised to scale up the solar sector, which employs more than 200,000 people nationwide and is creating jobs nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy. Installations in New York State have increased by more than 500 percent since 2012, and overall, nearly 10,000 people work in solar energy in New York, which is adding jobs in the sector more rapidly than any other state, said Rhodes.

Officials are expecting to see a dramatic increase in jobs upstate next year, when SolarCity’s massive, next-generation solar panel manufacturing plant – slated to be the largest in North America – comes online on the site of the former Republic Steel factory, in Buffalo. The new facility received a $750 million investment from the state and is expected to produce 1 gigawatt worth of solar panels annually.  Officials anticipate the project will create 3,000 jobs, said Hochul.

New York is also participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Ready Vets Training Program, which offers a five-week technical skills course to military personnel stationed at Fort Drum, who are transitioning away from active service. The program prepares veterans to work in the fast-growing solar industry, and assists with job placement.

Many of the state’s solar initiatives fall under the NY-Sun program, which provides a range of incentive programs to encourage residents and businesses to switch to solar power. The program seeks to build 3 gigawatts of new solar capacity across the state by 2023, enough to power 400,000 homes, compared with around 25,000 homes today. Under the Shared Renewables program, starting May 1, New Yorkers who rent or who do not have the resources to obtain rooftop solar on their properties will be able to purchase a portion of their power from a local solar installation located in their community.

New York is one of thirteen states, plus the District of Columbia, with policies in place promoting community solar. A 2015 report from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that shared solar programs have tremendous growth potential in the U.S., and could represent up to 49% of the distributed solar market by 2020.

Also see:

NYS Department of Public Services White Paper on REV

From Green Matters:

New York Energy Reforms Would Bar Utilities from Owning Local Power

New York State’s Bold New Plan to Restructure Its Electricity System

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