By Peter Aronson
Last week’s announcement by Gov. Kathy Hochul that New York State was making the largest state investment in renewable energy in U.S. history was a monumental step forward in the state’s effort to meet its climate goals.
However, this is not the time for the state or anyone involved in state environmental issues to rest on its laurels. New York has committed to producing 70 percent of its electricity through renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent of its electricity, known as zero-net emissions, by 2040. To achieve that goal state leaders and advocates must ensure that 100 percent of the governor’s announcement from October 24 comes to fruition.
Because in the past, some renewable energy projects have faltered, or now face potential non-fulfillment. Just recently, on October 12, the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to deny price adjustments essential to the feasibility of ongoing large-scale renewable energy construction projects, potentially slowing them down or causing their outright cancellation, because of unexpected economic changes, including rising costs.
This can’t happen to the projects within the scope of Gov. Hochul’s recent announcement. Way too much is at stake. We must keep the existing renewable energy projects on track.
“We can’t forget that there is a big cost of inaction – costs that put our families at risk from pollution and climate threats. Today’s awards put us one step closer to achieving the clean energy future we all need, but there is more work to be done,” said NYLCV President Julie Tighe. “Today’s announcement builds off of the existing renewable energy projects that are already installed or in the pipeline — equivalent to 66% of the 2030 statewide energy load. These are the projects that already have shovels in the ground and barges in the water and must continue to be a priority for the state.”
Gov. Hochul’s announcement calls for three offshore wind and 22 land-based renewable energy projects, enough to power 2.6 million homes, equal to 12 percent of New York’s electricity needs once completed.
“These are concrete and necessary steps towards achieving the clean energy future New York State needs,” Tighe added. “We applaud Gov. Hochul for her environmental leadership. It’s imperative that all her announced projects get completed.”
The numbers back that up.
At the end of 2022, according to a report by the New York State Comptroller’s Office, only 29 percent of the electricity in New York State came from renewable sources. Of this 29 percent, roughly 75 percent comes from hydroelectric power (much of it from the Niagara Falls area), with the remaining 25 percent divided between wind and solar.
Even before the PSC decision on Oct. 12, the state has had cancellation problems, according to the Comptroller’s report. Between 2005 and April 2023, 28 renewable energy projects – projected to produce 11.3 percent of electricity during those years – were canceled.
“Even as funding commitments have increased, the State has faced challenges moving projects to completion,” the Comptroller’s report stated.
Projects may be canceled for a variety of reasons, including political or resident opposition to the project, changes in finances of the developer, changes in market conditions or unforeseen cost increases.
In order for the state to increase that 29 percent renewable energy figure to its goal of 70 percent by 2030, it must avoid delays and cancellations in announced projects.
One way to do that is to emphasize the positives and to dispel any negative myths about the work trying to be accomplished. The United Nations, the leading source and aggregator of climate change information in the world through its work with scientists around the globe, has done an excellent job of that. A U.N. report provides some simple, common sense reasons why renewable energy is the best course of action, looking beyond the obvious need to eliminate carbon emissions. The report provides logical reasons for renewable energy, while dispelling widespread myths about feasibility, costs, jobs and economic impact. The report states:
- 80 percent of the global population (about six billion people) live in countries that are net importers of fossil fuels. Yet, renewable energy sources – wind, solar and hydroelectric – are available in variable amounts, depending on weather and geography, in every country.In fact, New York State imports energy supplies from other states and Canada to meet about 75 percent of its energy needs. By focusing on renewable energy, New York State is working to reverse that.
- With prices for renewable energy technology dropping rapidly, producing renewable energy is the cheaper option. For example, the cost of electricity from solar power fell by 85 percent between 2010 and 2020, and by 56 percent for onshore wind and 48 percent for offshore wind. This trend is expected to continue.
- The health benefits from renewable energy are well documented, but here are some fast facts: According to the World Health Organization, about 99 percent of the people in the world still breathe air “that exceeds air quality limits and threatens their health, and more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are attributed to avoidable environmental causes, including air pollution.” And in 2018, air pollution from fossil fuels caused $2.9 trillion in health and economic costs, about $8 billion a day.In New York state, according to Gov. Hochul’s announcement, the new renewable energy projects will help provide innumerable health benefits for New Yorkers, including fewer incidents of pollution-related illness and premature death, fewer days of missed school or work, less business disruption and lower health care costs. Renewable energy projects also are focused on reducing health problems in disadvantaged communities throughout the state.
- Shifting to renewable energy creates jobs. In fact, the U.N. report states that the renewable energy industry creates three times as many jobs as the fossil fuel industry. Worldwide by 2030, while five million jobs could be lost in the fossil fuel industry, 14 million new jobs would be created in the clean energy sector, a net gain of nine million jobs. An additional 16 million jobs are predicted in clean-energy related fields.In New York State, according to Gov. Hochul’s announcement, the new renewable energy projects, when coupled with two other wind projects in the works, will produce 8,300 good-paying jobs and spur $20 billion in economic development statewide.
- Overall, the U.N. report states, the world will benefit economically by the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. Worldwide in 2022, approximately $7 trillion was spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, through explicit subsidies, tax breaks and health and environmental damage. In comparison, about $4 trillion needs to be invested in renewable energy until 2030, to allow the world to meet its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. (New York state’s goal is to reach that target by 2040.)In New York, according to Gov. Hochul’s announcement, the three offshore wind projects alone will bring more than $15 billion in anticipated in-state spending and create more than 4,200 jobs in Long Island, New York city and Albany Capital Region.
New York State is an environmental leader in the country, ranking the lowest per capita of all 50 states in 2020 for carbon dioxide emissions and, in 2021, ranking fifth in the nation for the amount of electricity generated by renewable sources, according to a comprehensive overview of New York’s energy sources and consumption by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And, as we know, New York is 10 years ahead of the curve, trying to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is keeping close track how much clean energy is reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New York State. It operates a Clean Energy Dashboard with highly technical data tracking New York’s progress quarter by quarter. According to the charts on their website, from January 2016 until the end of June 2023, the reduction in air pollutants is equal to removing 2.5 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year or the annual energy use of almost two million homes.
We believe it’s important for New York to maintain its progress and to maintain a leadership position, so that we provide a continuously healthier environment for New Yorkers and also provide an example for other states to follow.
That’s why it’s essential for political and government leaders, advocates and consumers to double down on Gov. Hochul’s recent announcement, to make sure the projects she promotes get completed, and to apply appropriate pressure to ensure the completion of all other outstanding renewable energy projects across the state.
We look forward to working together with Gov. Hochul, other government leaders and our fellow advocates to get this job done.
We have to remember: 2030 is less than seven years away. We have a lot of work to do.