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Borrello Questions If State Will Meet Climate Goals

The week of Feb. 7-13, the bulk of New York’s electricity continued to be generated by natural gas.

The New York Independent System Operator’s grid brief for Feb. 14 showed natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear generation supplied the bulk of the state electric grid’s power, followed by wind, solar, petroleum and other sources. While wind had a bump near the middle of the week, it didn’t approach hydroelectric power even at hydroelectric’s low point for the week.

Those figures and the looming 2030 deadline for New York to generate 70% of its power with renewable energy were on state Sen. George Borrello’s mind as he questioned Doreen Harris, NYSERDA president and CEO, during a recent joint legislative budget hearing. By 2040 the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act stipulates the state is supposed to have a zero emission electric system.

“I think you’ve heard from people on both sides of the aisle about our concerns here about reliability and affordability in this push by 2040,” Borrello said. “But let’s talk about the numbers here about generating capacity. Right now in the last 25 years we’ve only brought on 12.9 gigawatts of new power. We’re going to need something like 111 more gigawatts of new power by 2040. Where’s that going to come from? Now the other issue is wind and solar make up 6% of our current portfolio, which is about 6.5 gigawatts. We’re looking at 70 gigawatts which his projected to be needed for wind and solar. This is just not achievable, it’s not practical. Also we’re throwing out our first and foremost reliable forms of energy like natural gas. There’s nothing in the CLCPA that says we need to eliminate reliable forms of energy like natural gas, which has a lower carbon footprint. But also there are things like RNG, green hydrogen, other forms of supply, increasing our capacity for hydroelectric power – New York state is, I think, number three in the nation now for hydroelectric power. Why are we one-trick ponies with wind and solar?”

There are growing doubts about how the state will reach both the 2030 and 2040 CLCPA mandates in the wake of last fall’s setbacks with major off-shore wind turbine projects after companies pulled out when the state Public Service Commission refused to increase ratepayer-backed public subsidies for the projects. Public Service Commission members worried increasing the subsidies would increase electricity rates for power users across the state.

According to a Politico report last week, New York’s current renewable portfolio – which includes offshore wind projects seeking higher prices through a pending competitive process – is to provide about 63% of statewide electricity by 2030.

“I agree that we have had a very clear focus on renewables because of the immediacy of the 2030 goals that are part of the climate law,” Harris said in response to Borrello’s question. “I’m encouraged by the fact that in the coming year you may have noticed the Public Service Commission has kicked off a proceeding which is asking just your question — what does a zero emission grid in 2040 look like? And in that proceeding we will be analyzing potential contributions from resources like you indicated, and including nuclear power as another example.”

Much of upstate New York already gets the bulk of its power from carbon-free sources. In the areas west and north of Albany, nearly 93% percent of electricity generated and sold into the grid during 2022 came from nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams, wind turbines or other renewables, according to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, compared to the Capital Region, lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island together only having less than 6% of its generation come from any sort of renewable source.

“I’m glad you mentioned that, because I don’t think a lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are embracing nuclear power, which is going to be needed,” Borrello said. “Also, when you say zero emission grid, what are we going to do about the increasing amount of power that we’re importing from other states from places like Homer City, Pa., which is a dirty old coal plant? We are now ramping up and importing more power than we ever have. Does zero emission mean we’re going to pretend we’re zero emission and still import more power or are we going to cut those cords and be truly zero emission?”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, New York has one of the most energy-efficient economies in the nation, and New Yorkers consume less total energy per capita than all other states, except Rhode Island. Even then the state depends on energy supplies from elsewhere to meet nearly four-fifths of its energy needs.

“The first question before the commission is actually the question you just asked, which is what is a zero emissions resource according to our law and how will it be accounted for?” Harris said to Borrello. “So I would just sort of put that in one place. As for how we count, you’re right, we count imports toward our goals and if we are importing natural gas or coal or anything like that, it is reflected in the ways we contribute. We are impacted by the interconnected grid for sure.”

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