NYS Energy Symposium Shows Determination and Direction

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — The 12th annual Energy in the 21st Century Symposium, a forum for energy and energy policy practitioners in NY State, took place recently. This year’s  focus was “How Can We Reach Our Renewable Energy Goals?” There was an unspoken understanding in the room that the question held a deeper significance than it had a year earlier.

Speakers included NY State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Janet Joseph, VP of Innovation and Strategy at NYSERDA, David Mooney, NREL’s Director of Strategic Energy Analysis and Anne Reynolds, Director of Alliance for Clean Energy, NY. A tremendous amount of information was shared. We will attempt to hit a few of the highlights here.

Janet Joseph opened the proceedings with an assessment of that state’s progress to the ambitious goal under the NY Clean Energy Standard, of 50% renewable electricity by 2030, a 40% reduction in GHG levels from 1990, and a 23% decrease in building energy usage from 2012 levels. While the current 26% renewable share is definitely a feel-good number, the fact the most of that currently comes from hydro (think Niagara Falls) means that NY will need considerable additional growth in solar, wind and other renewables in order to meet that target. To reach the goal of nearly 35,000 GWh of renewables by 2030, will require exponential growth to continue at an accelerating pace, with about 40% of that expected to come from wind.

She then announced that NYSERDA would soon be releasing a solicitation for renewable energy, its largest ever. Included for the first time, will be funding for offshore wind (OSW) projects. The state has committed to developing 2.4 GW of offshore wind by 2030.  The state’s first offshore wind energy area, consisting of some 80,000 acres off the Long Island coast has been established. The solicitation will also include funds for renewable heating and cooling, such as ground source heat pumps. Joseph also talked about the rollout of NY’s Clean Energy Fund (CEF) a key pillar in the state’s energy transformation that will provide necessary funds for critical projects.

Finally, Joesph mentioned that the governor has authorized a study to find out what it would take for the state to reach 100% renewable power.

Alfred Griffin, President NY Green Bank spoke of some of their work with CEF. They have distributed approximately $1B in funding so far, with another $600 million worth of renewable projects in the pipeline. Most of the projects are loans against future revenues through Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) and other similar arrangements.

Anne Reynolds, who has long been a lobbyist for clean energy, got into the nitty-gritty of what it will actually take, beyond just dollars to achieve this 50% renewables goal. To sum it up, she mentioned four things: new grid scale solar and wind projects (Tier 1), distributed renewables (e.g. rooftop solar) continuing to flourish, aggressive energy efficiency--to keep the pie from growing and also, the need to ensure that renewables stay in NY. That means that when wind farms, for example, reach end of life, they should be refurbished with larger, more efficient units, rather than shut down. It also means not allowing other states to outbid NY for the renewable power generated here.

To quantify the ask, we will need 29.2 million MWh of new Tier 1 renewable energy in the form of: land-based wind, grid scale solar, offshore wind, hydro, fuel cell, and biogas, in that order. Reynolds ran through a number of scenarios of how that production would be shared among available technologies, with offshore wind ranging as high as 2400 MW of generation, accounting for anywhere from 14-41% of the total generation. Hydropower imports from Quebec could factor in as much as 1000MW as well, which would require transmission upgrades.

Many factors will enter the final contribution levels. Among these are cost, land use, site suitability, transmission distance to market, and, of course, the market itself. Looking at land use, based on numbers provided, solar would require roughly 6,700 acres per GW, while wind permanently disturbs about 500 acres per GW.

The queue currently in the pipeline consists of 84% wind and 16% solar, with the state's first offshore wind project ( Deepwater LIPA South Fork) getting some fanfare. Offshore wind costs are expected to drop towards $100/MWh by 2035 as teh technology reaches scale.

 Meanwhile, developers need long term contracts, permits and interconnection. They also need community support. While renewables in general receive overwhelming support, few people actually want them in their back yard. (I once heard a guy at a protest say he’d rather have a nuclear plant in his backyard than a wind farm. Go figure.)

John Shinn District 4 Director of the United Steel Works, spoke about labor implications of these changes. While states like NY and California have strong renewable energy plans, other states that depend more heavily on regulations like the Clean Power Plan, to stimulate investment in renewables are likely to suffer. Solar provides lots of jobs across the supply chain but few manufacturing jobs. Most of the jobs are in energy efficiency. NY has over 85,000 workers in the clean energy sector. He highlighted Combined Heat & Power, and Waste Heat to Power as important. Over 36,000 facilities are utilizing this today. Upfront investment is a barrier. Attempts to get a "Buy American" provisions in policy have mostly failed. Wind power uses lots of concrete and steel but most of it is Chinese. Chinese steel creates 2.5x GHG emissions more than US steel.

Tom DiNapoli NYS Comptroller, was the former chair of environmental committee in the NYS assembly. DiNapoli gave his perspective on the challenges currently standing between the state and its ambitious renewable energy targets. Not mincing words, he spoke to the elephant in the room, calling recent actions at the Federal level “very, very, troubling,” while adding that, “ while they do pose concerns and challenges, this is not the end of progress for the low carbon economy.”

The Cuomo administration has made the battle against carbon emissions a priority, taking a more aggressive stance on energy and environmental issues. So they started a green initiative to make the comptroller’s office part of the solution DiNapoli oversaw an energy audit of state gov’t buildings, with help from NYSERDA. As a result, they increased Energy Star rating from 77 in 2010 to 84 in 2016. Other audits in 5 school districts on Long Island, which also led to energy savings. Turning to the state pension fund, they have prioritized investments in the emerging low-carbon economy, which has also helped returns.  In addition, they took on an aggressive corporate governance program looking at carbon footprint and climate risk associated with every company they invest in or consider for future investment, targeting those companies with carbon footprints 15% below benchmark, or less. All told, they are investing $5 billion into the low carbon economy. They also sponsored in collaboration with Ceres, 54 shareholder resolutions targeting major companies including Exxon-Mobil.  

Finally, David Mooney, Center Director for Strategic Energy Analysis at NREL made remarks, followed by a keynote later in the session. Describing trends in the electricity generation market, he showed a graph which dramatically shows the decline in coal, the rapid rise in natural gas and the more recent steadily climbing presence of renewables in the picture. He then highlighted some statistics, you may have heard before. Renewables comprised 63% of all additional generation capacity introduced last year.

The wind market, which has grown to 81 GW, is robust in all areas of the country, except the Southeast. Texas ranks #1, while NY is 13th. Solar is catching up with 40GW installed, NY ranks 10th. Speaking of costs, he showed that the levelized cost of wind power, which runs as low as $50/MWh is as good as the best combined-cycle natural gas plants, while emitting zero carbon. Meanwhile, utility scale solar PV is as low as all other contenders except the very best case, with which wind is tied.