New York Senate passes the biggest renewable energy mandate in the US


From pv magazine USA.

The 100% renewable energy movement has focused on getting state and city-level commitments passed but that call to action lacks one critical dimension: time. And not all 100% clean and renewable energy mandates are the same. Massachusetts can lay claim to a 100% renewable energy mandate; however the timeline is so slow as to be meaningless.

Most of the 100% clean energy mandates that have swept the U.S. – many in the last six months – set a target of 2045 or 2050 for full decarbonization of electricity. That means the mid-term targets they set may be more important for renewable energy industries and climate mitigation. Among such measures, California’s 60% renewables by 2030 mandate has been a leading light.

New York is now on the brink of passing the most second-most aggressive renewable energy mandate in the nation, with its Senate approving S6599 late last night. The New York State climate leadership and protection act has many provisions affecting multiple sectors which add up to a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from man-made sources by 2050, with the stated goal of “exercising a global leadership role on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation”.

As a central pillar of the legislation, the bill would formalize governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to have the state’s utilities source 70% of their electricity from renewables by 2030, up from the current 50%, and for them to reach 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2040.

A 50% target by 2030 already puts New York in a four-way tie for the fourth-most aggressive 2030 renewables target in the nation. If the bill passes it would surpass even California and put its mandate on par with Vermont’s 75% by 2032 target, only bettered by Washington D.C.’s 100% by 2032.

Anyone tempted to see the New York ambition as second best should keep in mind the state has a population of 19.5 million, whereas Washington DC has only 700,000 residents and Vermont 600,000. That means such a target not only means a lot more solar, wind and batteries, but is likely to have a bigger ripple affect on policies nationally and globally.

The bill also sets targets to deploy 6 GW of distributed solar by 2025, 3 GW of energy storage by 2030 and 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035.

Reaching 70% and 100%

The bill would task the state’s Public Service Commission to come up with a program to reach the 70% mark by 2030 and 100% by 2040, and appears to give regulators a pretty free hand in how to do so. The program would be reviewed in 2024 and every two years thereafter.

As for the 6 GW distributed solar goal – a key provision of Governor Cuomo’s plans – regulators have until July 2024 to establish a program, a date only six months ahead of the target. And while Vote Solar Northeast regional director Sean Garren told pv magazine he expects a program long before then, anyone who has followed the Reforming the Energy Vision process knows crafting policies in New York can be painfully slow.

It is important to note all of the renewables targets are ambitious not only compared to other states, but also in terms of New York’s progress to date. According to U.S. Department of Energy figures, in-state renewable energy made up around a quarter of New York’s electricity generation last year but a large majority of that was down to hydropower. In-state solar met less than 1.3% of demand, and wind less than 3%, with the portion of both around half the national average.

Ready to go

However, the Cuomo administration has shown a willingness to move boldly both at the distributed generation (DG) level and for large scale renewables, with a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority block grant program for DG solar and a series of massive solicitations showing the state means business.

S6599 must first pass the New York Assembly today during the last day of the session – unless the legislative period is extended. However, as the assembly has passed a similar version of the bill, Vote Solar’s Garren said passage is likely. A signature by Governor Cuomo is assured as the politician announced a deal on Monday morning declaring the legislation is good to go.

From there on it will be about implementation and we will learn just how quickly New York can move.

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