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New York Adopts Historic “50 by '30” Renewables Goal

New York City Sidewalk

Building on its record of climate leadership, New York cements its position as a national renewable energy leader today with a New York Public Service Commission (PSC) order requiring that 50 percent of the state’s electricity must from clean, renewable sources like solar and wind power by 2030.

New York, with the country’s third-largest population, now joins California, America’s most populous state, in having set a “50 by ‘30” renewable energy benchmark. This order also means that almost one-fifth of the U.S. population—almost 65 million people—lives in an area with this ambitious requirement, which can help avoid significant amounts of the carbon pollution fueling climate change.

Today’s action comes at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who in December first instructed the Public Service Commission, which regulates New York’s utilities, to take up the “50 x ‘30” standard.

As I write, we’re awaiting the written decision from the Public Service Commission, which will be lengthy. But here’s what we know so far based on the presentation today by Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman and her staff:

  • 50 x ’30: New York’s utilities and other electricity suppliers will be required to obtain 50 percent of New York’s electricity from truly renewable and pollution-free energy resources—including solar, land-based and offshore wind power, and hydropower—by 2030. This ambitious but achievable standard will require us to double the percentage of renewable energy currently on New York’s electric grid. NRDC looks forward to working with Governor Cuomo, New York’s energy regulators, and other stakeholders to achieve and surpass the 50 percent target well before 2030 to give New Yorkers a rapid and orderly transition to a truly sustainable and pollution-free energy future that moves beyond our reliance on risky fossil fuels and nuclear power.

  • Mandatory and enforceable: The “50 by ‘30” renewables standard is both mandatory and enforceable. Utilities and electricity suppliers will face penalties if they fail to comply.

  • Energy efficiency: The Public Service Commission has also signaled its commitment to expanding the state’s energy efficiency programs, a commitment that will still need to be implemented by subsequent commission actions later this year. NRDC will continue to prioritize the creation of a firm target of at least 2 percent energy-saving gains annually.

  • Offshore wind power: The Public Service Commission has recognized that scaling up New York’s vast offshore wind power resources will be necessary in order to meet the 50 percent by 2030 target. As Chair Zibelman said at today’s meeting, “New York is blessed with the potential for terrific offshore wind resources.” Today’s decision does not include a specific offshore wind target, deferring that until another state agency—the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority—issues an offshore wind blueprint and master plan for New York, expected later this month. We are also anticipating the approval by the Long Island Power Authority of a much-awaited contract for a 90-megawatt offshore wind power project, to be sited 30 miles east of Montauk. NRDC will continue to advocate for a significant, long-term, large-scale offshore wind power target for New York.

  • Clean Energy Jobs: Already, New York is home to more than 85,000 clean energy jobs in fields like energy efficiency, solar energy, wind power, energy storage, and alternative-fuel vehicles. The “50 by ‘30” program will send those job numbers skyward.

  • Nuclear power: Separately, the Public Service Commission also approved an incentive program to keep three upstate nuclear power plants operating through 2030. The nuclear incentive level, the amount that power plant operators will receive to help keep these plants running, was set for only the next two years and can be adjusted up or down after 2018 based on market conditions. These plants’ operating licenses don’t expire until 2030 or later. But their owners had previously announced plans to shut them down because they are uneconomic in today’s electricity markets. Significantly, the Public Service Commission has made clear that these nuclear incentives are separate and apart from the “50 by ‘30” renewables requirement; not one megawatt hour of nuclear power will count toward the 50 percent renewables requirement. That is as it should be; while nuclear power is a low-carbon source of electricity, it’s neither clean nor renewable.

Today’s “50 by ‘30” renewables decision has national significance. If New York were its own country, our gross domestic product would be the 11th largest in the world and now it joins California, whose GDP would be the 7th largest. While 29 states have established enforceable renewable energy goals, the vast majority are currently well below the 50 percent level. We hope that many other states will soon follow the lead of economic powerhouses New York and California and set renewable energy goals of at least 50 percent by 2030.

Several smaller states, in fact, have already taken up the challenge. Tiny Vermont and Hawaii require even higher percentages of renewables. Hawaii has set a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2045 and Vermont, 75 percent by 2032. Oregon has established a goal of achieving 50 percent renewables by 2040.

Together, New York, California and these other states are home to more than 20 percent of the nation’s population and are responsible for almost 25 percent of the country’s GDP— $4.4 trillion.

And numerous cities and communities across the United States, including the village of East Hampton right here in New York, have gone even further and committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

Today’s “50 by ‘30” decision means that New York is moving in the right direction on energy. Governor Cuomo has shown that he understands the multitude of benefits that clean energy brings and the compelling need to take decisive action to fight climate change. And Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman and her staff deserve great credit for their hard work and vision. With New York and other states leading the way, momentum is driving clean energy in the United States ever upward.

Update: The PSC’s order has now been posted and is available here.

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